I was watching King Lear over the weekend and, being the tragedy that it is, found myself very frustrated at the concept of being trapped in a spiral of bad decisions and misfortune. It seems like Newton’s First Law of Motion applies to life as it does to objects – that once we start heading in a certain direction, it’s extremely difficult to break away from that trajectory.
Life is good when life is good, and life gets pretty bad when life is bad. It all sounds rather tautological, but it’s true that one good thing – a lucky break – will often set off a chain of new opportunities and success. Similarly, an unlucky situation can bring down even the best of us.
One of the things that I remember from reading Outliers is the idea that success builds on success. Once you have one thing, you often have it all. On the other hand, those that don’t have everything will often have very little, if not nothing.
A friend told me recently that he was quite pleased he knew me during my “less successful” days. I wasn’t sure how to take that comment at the time (my first reaction was defensive: “I’m not successful!”; my second reaction was worry: “Have I changed? Am I a bad person?”) but it made me think back to all the times where things were not so good. Without all the people who put up with me during the bad times and gave me something when I had nothing, I wouldn’t be even close to where I am today.
It’s easy to lose yourself when things are going well. It’s easy to become so preoccupied with your own pedestal of success that you forget what life was like when you didn’t feel so indestructible all the time.
So here is my ode to the soldiers in my life, the people who stick around when I am frustrating, ungrateful and stubborn. The people who make the little things count, and whose kindness is inversely proportionate to my ability to return the favour.
We need these people who still find something to love about us when we are repugnant human beings, and the people who steer us out of our steep and downward spirals so that we get another chance to recast our sails. Even the strongest of us need that somebody to give us another chance at a new day.