Stephen Covey, in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People wrote:
“It’s incredibly easy… to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall… If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”
This analogy struck a chord with me as I sat in a three-day 7 Habits workshop in the summer of 2014. “Wow, that’s ME!” I thought to myself. There I was, charging forward with every outward appearance of fast-track success as an Air Force officer and leader, but beginning to feel inside that I wasn’t really doing my life’s work.
At the time I didn’t know what that meant, what my “life’s work” might be, but I could feel that it wasn’t what I was doing at the time.
It wasn’t always that way. One reason I believe I was so successful on that path is that I did start out with all the energy, passion, and enthusiasm of youthful dreams. I’m eternally grateful for my years on the ladder– I loved those years and they shaped me into the person I am today.
I’m convinced that though I decided to hop off the ladder, and lean it against a different wall, it doesn’t mean I was on the wrong wall to start.
THE “LADDER HOP”
This concept of “ladder hopping” recently led me to wonder if there’s another analogy that might apply here. A ladder brings to mind the idea that there’s one right path, a linear path that requires upward motion and a series of achievements to get to the top of the wall.
What if we could reinvent the ladder as something non-linear, something embracing a journey of discovery, transformation, and limitless possibilities rather than a destination called “success”?
What if life isn’t like a ladder at all, but rather like a kaleidoscope? That’s a non-linear analogy I can wrap my mind around! As long as we’re taking action (turning the wheel), a kaleidoscope’s pattern is changing, shifting, growing, and transforming– beautiful colors swirling, dancing, and blending into other colors.
Perhaps you’re at a decision point in your life and are asking yourself, “What did I achieve all this for if I’m going to go out and do something totally different?!” Or you might be thinking, “Society expects X of me, my family expects Y of me, I expect Z of me and I don’t want to let anyone down.”
You may be thinking you’ve invested too much time, energy, and money into a certain path to turn back, so you need to stay there to recoup your losses, even if you’re unhappy.
Think of the kaleidoscope instead of the ladder.
LOOKING AT LIFE “KALEIDOSCOPICALLY”
You’ve achieved what you have in order to become the You who has the courage to break the mold and create something new. To head out in an unforeseen direction. To follow your heart and do what you love, even if it’s different from what you loved for a while, or what you thought you loved.
Your experiences, thoughts, emotions, and actions — to date — will always be an integral part of you, influencing the life and the person you are in this moment. But the amazing and empowering truth is that you are the creator of your own pattern. In this moment, you have the power to create your next step in life, your next story, your next thoughts and emotions.
It’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to create a new fork in your path. It’s okay to turn the kaleidoscope and shift the pattern of your life– and it’s absolutely natural to do so. Like a caterpillar destined to transform into a beautiful butterfly, the stages of your life are all connected and all a part of your pattern.
The caterpillar doesn’t know it’s going to become a butterfly. The butterfly wouldn’t exist without the caterpillar. Each phase contributes to a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts, even if that whole’s hard to imagine in a single moment.
Sitting in that 7 Habits workshop two and a half years ago, I wrote in one of my reflection exercises:
“If I can excel to this extent in something I’m not passionate about, how much more can I excel and make a difference doing something I really am passionate about?!”
That key insight started me on a new phase of my journey and helped me embrace the idea that self-creation‘s a fundamental and miraculous part of life.
As you grow and transform along your own journey, you will never be the same “You” that you were a moment ago. Your life is infinite in spirit and potential. Your pattern never repeats, only grows and expands more brilliantly in each moment. It’s unlimited, just like you. Just like all of us in this world and in this universe. Your pattern is as beautifully unique and special as you are.
Go ahead – turn the wheel and appreciate the splendor unfolding before your eyes. Life is an infinite, ever-changing kaleidoscope….
What pattern will you create?