My younger brother is a genius. Not in the “what-a-great-idea-you’re-a-genius” way. No, more like in the “your-IQ-is-way-higher-than-99.8-percent-of-people” way. He’s currently getting his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and fluid dynamics. He manages to naturally weave the Second Law of Thermodynamics into dinner party conversations, and I once heard him explain on a chairlift ride the theoretical technology required to teleport a human.
However, unlike many insanely book-smart people, Cole also possesses a great deal of emotional intelligence and intuition. He’s a deep thinker — not just about the mysteries of the universe but also of the human mind and soul. If he weren’t becoming a rocket scientist, I would tell him to become a therapist (although the problems might be harder to solve). Perhaps it’s not surprising then that my baby brother once gave me the best advice I’ve ever received — a nugget of wisdom I’ve repeated to myself and many others hundreds of times since.
Cole’s advice came at a particularly dark moment for me. I felt trapped and forlorn. I couldn’t imagine how my situation would ever change. Although in retrospect the struggle was never as desperate as it seemed, I can still remember clearly the sadness and hopelessness that weighed so heavily on my heart. One afternoon as I discussed my state of affairs with Cole, he said something simple:
This moment is not a snapshot of your entire life.
He shared his observation that in times of depression or anguish, the natural tendency for many of us is to believe that our current reality will remain our reality indefinitely. We assume that we will always feel our grief, pain, sadness, or discouragement with the same intensity we feel it in the present.
But of course, that’s not true. Whatever moment we are in is just that — a moment. Good or bad, it will not last forever; neither is it indicative of our ability to be happy (or not) in the future.
In the six years since that conversation, my situation has changed in ways I never would have predicted. I moved back to a place I worried I never would. I built a career I never anticipated building. I had a baby and made the decision to step away from that career. Through all these changes, I’ve been joyful at times and miserable at others. But—and perhaps this is the mark of truly great advice — the snapshot philosophy remains valid.
Remembering that the status quo is rarely stable adds perspective to challenging times and gratitude to blessed ones. During one exhausting night as I nursed my infant son for what seemed like the tenth time in as many hours, I realized with startlingly clarity for the uniquely sleep-deprived brain of a new mother how quickly this time in my life would pass. Somehow that made getting up at 2 AM and then 4 AM and then 6 AM a little more manageable.
And so as in most things, mathematical or otherwise, Cole’s genius prevailed. He was and is right — whatever our current situation may be, it too will pass. Please remind me of this when I start potty training my two-year-old next month.