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My daughter has one of those foam playmats with alphabets on it. We spend most of our waking hours there. As a result I have spent a good number of hours staring at these alphabets. Over the last few days one of the alphabet has really started jumping out. It is W. The more I think about it the more I feel that nothing really sums up life better than W.
At a very superficial level W has a bunch of highs and lows and one could say well yes that represents life and so each one of us at any given point of time is somewhere on the curve. This is really not the interesting part. After all everyone has forever equated life to a roller-coaster.
The interesting part is the epiphany I had!
One: Using a person's age you can make a fairly good guess on where they will be on the curve
Two: Not everyone gets to ride the entire W curve. Some people get stuck at certain points and stay there. It takes effort to ride the entire curve out. But for those that do, they lead a very fulfilled content life
To help understand the two statements I made allow me to take you on a journey through the curve. The curve essentially has 5 key points (labelled A to E) and 4 lines (labelled i to iv) [The names you will read below are super work in progress, if you can think of names that are better please do share]
Point A ("The highest high"):
The highest point in everyone's life is being born. Think about the incredible odds you beat just to arrive on planet earth. The fact that you were conceived, you survived ~9 months in your mother's womb and you had a safe and healthy birth is nothing short of a miracle!
Line i ("Towards ground zero"):
Right after the moment of your birth (like literally seconds after you are born) you kind of enter into a decline of sorts. Life becomes harder. Everything that you do is no longer cute. Expectations from you become real.
The slope of this “decline” depends on the ovarian lottery - that is the kind of household, wealth, country, race, gender and time period you are born into. Example the decline would be steeper for someone who is less privileged as compared to their more privileged peers
Point B (“The cusp of adulthood”):
For most people this point coincides with their high school graduation. There is a high amount of uncertainty about how your life will shape up. This is also the time when you (a large number of you folks) leave the safety of your home and need to start taking responsibility for your own life. It is a scary confusing time
Line ii (“The search for escape velocity"):
Once you have reconciled with where you landed you start working towards your imagined future. For most people this would be their undergraduate years. The possibilities of who you can in the near to long term future seem bright. This coupled with your newly acquired taste of adult freedom makes each day seem better than the previous one. You are back on an upward trajectory
Point C ("Invincible Me"):
You are a freshly minted graduate in your early 20s starting your first job. Ah, nothing feels better than the feeling you get on your first day at orientation when you feel unstoppable. Work excites you, the travel has not jaded you yet and watching your bank balance grow feels very good. You are very sure you can run the organization better than the folks who have been here for generations. At a certain level you feel that will happen sooner (in a couple of years) rather than later when the world around you will recognize your genius and start celebrating you....Forbes 30 under 30 *cough cough*
Line iii ("Bursting of the bubble"):
This is a slow decline. A few years into your working career you realize that you are not that special. You are not making it to the Forbes 30 under 30. You are not a millionaire. You are not famous. You will not become the CEO of the organization where you are working. Your start up is not the next unicorn. You will in all likelihoods live a life very similar to your parents (maybe marginally better)
Point D ("Mid-life crisis"):
You have reached the nadir of your life. A lot of folks get here in their 30s / 40s. It is the realization that you are living an average unremarkable life. For those that focused disproportionately on one aspect of their lives say prioritizing work over personal relationships you may envy a colleague who did the opposite. For those that achieved milestones that you set for yourself in your 20s you might feel directionless now that those are done and dusted. This also coincides with some health issues cropping up - you realize that your time on Earth is limited and before you know it it will all be over. A lot of people get stuck here and keep wallowing in their misery
Line iv ("Path to enlightenment"):
To be able to get on this upward trajectory one needs to shift the locus of control from the external to the internal - that is start defining your own metrics of success and believe that you control your own life vs living a life defined by other people's standards and attributing your success or failure to outside influences. The sooner you realize that you will fall short of the of the general societal expectations (because at a certain level it is like a mirage, the closer you think you get the further it moves) the faster you move up this path towards point E
Point E ("Everlasting contentment"):
You meet a few people and you just know that they are living a complete content life and if their time on Earth would be over in the next minute they would go away smiling. These are not necessarily people who are extremely famous or rich but folks who feel like they have lead meaningful complete lives (as defined by them).
Viktor Frankl's in his very wonderful book Man's Search for Meaning talks about how some people "have realities in the past - the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the value they have realized - and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from their past." I feel being in this state would feel similar to being in the same state as Point A - pure bliss!
Now, I recognize that a lot of points I made have a lot of generalization baked into them but if you step back and think about it literally anyone's life's high and low points can be plotted (time on X axis and the high low on the Y axis) and most people's would resemble a W curve.
Of course everyone's W curve is uniquely their own. A whole host of factors such as your family income, education level, quality of life on offer at the country you grew up in, luck etc determine the slopes of the lines and how high / low the points are on your curve. But almost everyone experiences these moments, which at a certain level is comforting!
I would love to hear from you, feedback is always welcome!