Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Next Step Forward

How’s life, NIP?
            I’ve been thinking about the big picture a lot lately. It seems as if every few years I get into a groove where I spend several months really reflecting upon what has transpired in my life over a chunk of 3-5 years. When I began this blog back in 2010, it was at a point in my life during which the past year had been one of big change in my professional life. I had recently left the English department at school and taken on a new challenge by moving to Social Studies. Having multiple degrees that qualify me for either of these fields, I leapt at the chance to change. Sometimes people fear change, but I’ve come to a point in my life that I realize that change is necessary for us to maximize our potential. These changes usually coincide with a good hard look at our recent past along with the realization that we’re on the verge of one of two options: stagnate or take the next step forward.

            I never realized it when I was young, but I did this almost accidentally every few years. I don’t think I had the wisdom (read: life experience) to know that what I was doing was reflecting on how I had gotten to a particular point in my life or, more importantly, where to go. I would simply let life take me where it wanted, and that has had its advantages to some degree. Now I’m old enough to recognize that it takes a balanced approach to both letting life lay lots of options at your feet and then selecting one path to travel for a while, to try it out and see if it’s best for you and where you are in life, if you will. Many people are afraid to do this, NIP, but what I’ve discovered is that very often you either: 1) realize soon enough that this path wasn’t suited for you and can quickly reverse course; 2) find that life will lay another option along the line that allows you to correct course while still moving forward. I’ve grown to enjoy the second option more than the first as I’ve gotten older, mainly because I still feel as if I am progressing in one sense or another. Either way, you’ve got to trust yourself and your capacity to grow as a person and, more importantly, persevere through minor setbacks.

            This can easily be explained by my own experience of the last half of my life (about 19 years at this point). As I said earlier, I never realized I reflected this way when I was younger. I only really started to notice and to do so with purpose once I got into my 30s. When I was 21, for instance, I thought back to the time when I was 16 or 17 and told myself, “Man, have I grown up since then. I know so much more than I did 5 years ago.” Then, 25 rolled around and I started to think, “Boy was I a fool for thinking I knew anything at 21.” 30 comes around the bend, I met Erin, and life really began to get great, but I couldn’t help shake the feeling that though I had learned so much throughout my 20s, much of my earlier reflections had been tainted with hubris. Rather than thinking I knew a lot, my 30s brought me humility and made me realize that I know very, very little. Since that time it has been a continual effort to cultivate this wisdom—real wisdom—and I finally understand what Socrates meant when he famously quipped, “I know nothing.” And though I may know nothing in a deeply philosophical sense, I have a modicum of knowledge that has helped me grow a great deal as a person in many ways. With only a few months until I turn 38, I’ve been reflecting much about the last 5 years, but it’s different in that there is a deliberateness, a purpose behind the reflection. Perhaps this is simply an outgrowth of the recognition of my mortality and that I can no longer squander any of the time I have been allotted with the precious gift of life I have been given. I must use what I have left to the best of my ability both for myself but more importantly for others.

            Looking back over the last 5 years or so, I’ve had a lot of growth, a lot of progress, but I look forward to my immediate horizons because I feel there is so much more to come. Crazy as it sounds, I feel as if the last 5 years have only been the stabilization of my foundation, that now the real work will begin. What that work is I can’t quite put into words. Going back to one of the earliest metaphors I had used in the first letters, I am carving my magnum opus, creating my own work of art with my life—as we all must do, NIP—and for the first time it seems as if my sculpture is beginning to take shape. It has a rough outline rather than just being an amorphous piece of stone. All I know is that I must continue to move forward, to take that next step that will lead to the best of who I am to become. That’s all any of us can ever do, really. Reflection helps us see where we’ve been and how our past has shaped us, but these are not necessarily determinants of our future. With our past in mind we can learn to make better choices for our future. As I often tell my students in class, the best way to take care of the future is by making positive, productive choices in the present. In so doing, the future often has a way of taking care of itself. The path seems to widen in a sense, and all we must do is keep taking that next step forward. There is no going back in life. None of us are getting younger. All we can do is make the most of what we have left, regardless of what we have done.

            Something big is coming, I can feel it in my bones. Just as I could sense it when I was turning 33, I feel as if life is going to hand me a new opportunity, a new challenge. I don’t know exactly how, when, or why, but I’ve grown wise enough to embrace it when it arrives. I don’t remember who said it, but a great quote says something along the lines of “the ignorant fear change, while the wise savor it.” We can’t stop life, NIP, and it is foolish to resist change. If we’re willing to play our part and give any new endeavor our best efforts, I’ve learned that life has a way of working out for the best, even though certain moments may not seem as if it’s going that way. We must be ready for change, but not have an expectation of what that change will be. Be open to it, be balanced in accepting it, and most crucially, be grateful for it. Change is more a friend than an enemy. Resisting it only keeps us mired and leads to stagnation. Instead, take some time to seriously reflect on your life’s work, what you’ve accomplished up to this point in your life. What needs to change? How can you be better? How will you use this reflection to move onward in the right direction? I can’t answer these questions for you, but it’s important that you ask yourself them from time to time and reevaluate where you are and where to you need to go. There’s no looking back…life only moves in one direction.

Keep stepping forward, NIP.

- Ryan

P.S. - My apologies if this letter seems like a jumbled mess. It was pounded out with heart and haste. I do hope you are well and I thank you for reading.

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