If you’re like me, you prefer that life go in a straight line—growing in linear, predictable steps, moving smoothly toward where we want to be. Much “success” writing seems to imply that that’s how it should be. And if you’re like me, it just doesn’t work that way.
A jet doesn’t fly in a straight line. It follows a set trajectory, yes, but between here and there it zigs a little to one side, then zags back to correct itself. It does arrive. When it’s my own life, though, I have been impatient with—or even frightened by—what appear to be side-trips.
At the beginning my PhD program, I was required to present my program proposal to the faculty at 8 a.m. on a particular day. It was now 4 p.m. the day before and the head of my department had just shown me why my proposal was not acceptable. Panic! I had no idea what to do now. And I surely didn’t want to wait and pay for another six months to try again.
After staring for several hours at the San Francisco lights across the Bay, an idea came. So at 11:30 p.m., I called an honored professor, who had once invited such a crisis call. In minutes, he filled out my idea with a bibliography and a few key words. I didn’t get much sleep that night, but my proposal was passed the next morning.
Most interesting of all: this section of my work became the most precious, the most influential, the most in line with my deeper aims. A big zig-zag, which I couldn’t have predicted, and which upset me greatly at the time, turned out to be an immeasurable impetus toward what I most wanted. And I learned an valuable lesson: I felt scared indeed, but the situation demanded a forward move. So I moved.
I did have an idea where I was headed. Beyond that, though, this taught me to trust the process. Life will zig and zag. It will take turns that feel off-track, turns that we don’t anticipate and don’t like. It may even feel like we’re going backwards. And what seems off-track now may well turn out to be more on-track than we could possibly have planned.
What’s your biggest zig-zag? How did it turn out?