June 11, 2019

Navigating the seasons of your life

I read this quote by one of my favorite physician teachers recently.  It gave me pause.

“A human life has seasons much as the earth has seasons, each time with its own particular beauty and power. And gift. By focusing on springtime and summer, we have turned the natural process of life into a process of loss rather than a process of celebration and appreciation. Life is neither linear nor stagnant. It is movement from mystery to mystery. Just as a year includes autumn and winter, life includes death, not as an opposite but as an integral part of the way life is made.
— Rachel Remen

As humans, we tend to get caught up in our go-go-go schedules, both personally and professionally.  We focus on the most mundane of problems.  (This morning I took more time than needed to decide which color watch band to wear with my outfit – a true “first-world problem!”)  And we just sort of expect that things will go the way they are supposed to.

When they don’t … well, we don’t always know what to do, or how to contextualize what has happened.

Mismatched expectations and suffering

My Buddhist friends tell me that the chief cause of human suffering is clinging to expectations that aren’t met (I’m paraphrasing a bit).  At times when I’m frustrated, it’s often because I have set up an expectation that something will go a particular way — all the traffic lights will be green on my drive to work, for example.  In this instance, I have failed to recognize that there is actually a “season” of green lights and a “season” of red lights for each light that I encounter.  It is unrealistic to expect that I will get to each light in the “green season.”  And yet, I somehow think that I will, I should or — even worse — that I deserve to.  Wow!

Seasons in our personal lives

As I think about this in the context of our lives — my own, and those lives for whom I have been privileged to bear witness — I think that we in western cultures seem to operate under the fallacy that Rachel Remen describes above.  It is always spring (new opportunities and growth) or summer (bright sunshine and happiness), and we rarely think about what the seasons of loss and rebirth will be like.  It is our particular conceit that we don’t have to think about those things until they arrive.

Often, the season in which we have young children coincides with our least well-resourced period financially, but when we are physically most capable of caring for them with all the energy they require.  As we get to the stage where they are launching into their own lives, we may fail to see that we are finally adequately resourced to enjoy the fullness of our adulthood, reconnecting with our spouse and creating a life that is all our own.  All we see is the “empty nest,” and the loss.  We didn’t realize there was a season.

Seasons in our professional lives

In a similar vein, I think that many of my clients (and I, myself, as well) look at the period of a new job and new career opportunity as one of great promise that we expect to last for the rest of our careers.

We in the West are conditioned to look for that long-term, stable career step that will lead to an abundance of resources, increasing autonomy, power and prestige, and long-term financial security.  When we take a new job, we don’t think about what the exit strategy might need to be, or that we even might need one.  It’s part of the reason that leaders fail to plan for their own succession or retirement.

What would our careers look like if we could see in them the progression of seasons?  Periods of growth, abundance, retrenchment and rebirth?  It might help alleviate the angst many of us feel when a particular professional season has run its course.  And this perspective might help us navigate the transitions with grace and intention.

Related readings

I have taken the liberty of pulling together a brief set of readings about this idea from other perspectives, and I share it here, hoping that this information will start you thinking about the seasons in your own life, including another quote from one of my other favorite authors:

“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
— Henry David Thoreau

How does this apply in your life?

I’d be very interested in how this concept of seasonality resonates for you.  Share your thoughts about what season you are in, or tips for how to navigate the seasons, in the comments below.