Our lives are filled with scoreboards: News feeds, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, likes and favorites and retweets. They say you play better when you don’t look up at the scoreboard. You won’t get cocky seeing how far ahead you are. You won’t get jealous seeing how far behind you are. You will just play for the love of the game.
But sometimes we look up at the scoreboard in hopes that it will motivate us. Maybe we will find that we are only one point away from the lead. We will feel a rush of adrenaline and a wave of incentive, and every fiber of our being will be devoted to the pursuit of that one little point that will put us back on equal playing fields, or that one point more that will place us in the lead, ahead of the rest, where everyone wants to be.
We always want to know where we stand. Who is in front of us and who is behind. We like to reduce our success to quantities and counts and tallies – things that are easier to measure – because we think that will make the “points” easier to come by. Easier to earn. If we can just match the number of the greats then we too will be great. Won’t we?
We always want to know who is the one to beat. We want to look at them, memorize their ways, try to glean the secret to success from their ticks and idiosyncrasies. We are always looking for something to emulate, for a ladder to climb, for an image to mirror. Because we fear that if we lose sight of that image of perfection, we might forget what success even looks like. How will we know when we’re there? And so how will we get there?
We are always looking for platforms. We want to use them but more often they end up using us. We want them to be the pedestal that propels us into the stars, but more often they confine us to the limits of the person who stood there previously. To their ways and to their talents, to their abilities, to their restrictions. Pedestals can be like cages, sometimes.
As we look back on our lives, there are key moments. There are game-changers. There are sharp turns and steep descents and plateaus flatter than a glass of soda that has been sitting out for a few days. There are peaks and slopes and mountains and valleys that decorate the landscape of a life well lived.
The funny thing, though, about the game-changers and the turning points and all the ups and downs is that they were almost always sparked by unexpected events, by that phone conversation we didn’t expect to have. By that job offer we were sure we wouldn’t get. By that stranger who walked into our life out of nowhere. Or by that friend who walked out of it, hopped a curb and rounded the corner at a moment’s notice, never to be seen again.
There’s a quote that goes a little something like this: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” We don’t plan the big events. We try to. We schedule our days, our weeks, our lives, with tentatives. With ideas. With solid intentions that are subject to change. Our planners are filled with occasions that never came to pass and our calendars are suspiciously void of the main events. We don’t see life coming, and that is the beauty of it.
Each day brings only options, decisions, alternatives. Something we tried once becomes a tradition.
So much of life is within our control, and so much of it is so perfectly, so teasingly, just beyond our grasp.