Zigging and Zagging Towards Ourselves

Once, a woman looked at my résumé and asked, not unkindly, “What’s the through line in this?”

I’d sold all-natural body products, raised Italian pigs, co-founded a school in India with lower caste musicians.

Her question rattled me up. Had I done it all wrong?

I knew there were tidy, proper, straight-line trajectories. I knew my résumé looked like a splattered egg next to them. But what I didn’t know was: Do those straight lines correlate with fulfillment?

I’d gone fumbling after my curiosity. Sometimes, it dead-ended. Other times, it blew the roof off my life and let the sky and sunlight in. Did it set me up for success? Depends on whose definition of success.

This woman wanted to be helpful. The wake behind me, though, was too zig-zaggy to align with how she thought success was realized.

I never asked her how she defined success. But so many of us never ask ourselves that: What does success mean to me?

Unthinkingly, we take on conventional ideas of success - make this money, look this way, have this family - then follow the straight line towards it all. And in a bitter irony, we castigate ourselves if we don’t measure up to this ideal we never set for ourselves. It’s an awful arrangement in an awful rat race.

I’d stumbled in and out of the rat race. I’d gone right to college after high school, found I wasn’t ready, took 18 months off without a plan, did work in India that gave me a whole new direction, returned to college (a different one) in the middle of the year, and kept on zigzagging from there.

From the outside, it looked helter-skelter. From the inside of me, it felt clumsy and unclear, but it felt honest, too. And more fulfilling than anything else I’d tried. I was zigzagging in the direction of who I was. Rarely is it a straight line to ourselves.

Finally, I answered the woman’s question in a way that was likely unsatisfying for her:

“I’m the through line.”

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