Life as a series of peaks with the inevitable troughs or the safer steady footing of a plateau? I’d like to break the boundaries of nature and dodge those troughs. To love without falling away from love, to be absorbed without becoming bored or burnt out, to be enthusiastic without becoming blasé. But if I have to take the troughs I will. I certainly don’t want those bland plateaus. And I know how to energize my life, you need to find something you want to learn, something new, something excited and something that is out of your comfort zone!
- Need it be our lot to fall victim to ennui?
- Should we settle for satisfactory?
- Does every Likert scale we complete inside our own heads register a 3 out of 5?
- Is adulthood about loss of the enthusiasm and excitement and play of childhood?
- Why do we calculate risk-benefit ratios before getting off the pot?
Peak or plateau, what’s your style? Peak or Plateau? What’s your style?
How to energize your life? Should all adults be required to watch children for an hour a two a month? Sit and in silence observe the play without guile, the absorption and enthusiasm, the concentration, their innate democracy and fairness when in groups, the older looking out for the younger, the peals of excitement. Even the drama of the short-lived crying or tears.
The expression of such qualities in an adult is often viewed negatively by other adults. Lack of guile may be treated as naiveté, openness in communication as a lack of political skills, expressions of excitement and enthusiasm or disappointment as immaturity.
I’ll warrant they are for some, but for others they are a conscious choice of how to live in the world. They will be seen most in more sensitive human beings, in those who are artistically inclined, and in those whose nature is to resist the grinding down action so well expressed by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes: “The longer I live, the more I am satisfied of two things; first, that the truest lives are those that are cut rose-diamond fashion, with many faces answering to the many-planed aspects of the world about them; secondly, that society is always trying in some way or other to grind us down to a single flat surface. It is hard work to resist this grinding down action” (From: The Professor at the Breakfast-Table. 1887).
If we become a plateau, we lose our mountain views. We make little headway in art or in science or technology. If it is true that many of the greatest breakthroughs in a whole range of fields are created by the young, we need to ask why? An open, more plastic brain and mind, or less to lose?
When “the/our/my future” becomes part of the calculus of human decision making, it is almost inevitably a restraining force. One eye on a safe harbor is half the visual power taken off the goal. Does tenure make a professor more or less of a risk taker? Does having an IRA or a pension plan free us up or tie us down?
We were all children once, and played much like every other child free of constraints. Take a look at video clips of children playing in war torn cities, or regions devastated by natural disasters. Examine the works of great photo-journalists like Henri Cartier-Bresson that show the smiles and gaiety of horseplay amid ruins. Thu:; the child au naturel. The English novelist, Penelope Fitzgerald won the Booker prize in 1979 for her novel “Offshore”. It’s a short and heart warming book about a small community of misfits living by the Thames river. My favorite character was a small girl called Tilda. Fitzgerald said of her: “Tilda cared nothing for the future, and had, as a result, a great capacity for happiness”.
As we were all children once, for almost all of us our natural rhythms began as those of the peak and trough, not the plateau. But our world grinds away, as if in plateau mode we were better prepared for the grave.
Plateau-mode can be a kind of death. A putting in of time, a diminished sense of self and expectations of what life should offer us. How else to explain the present-but-absent work style of many, including highly educated professionals like physicians, or a present-but-absent home life? The resistance that Holmes speaks of is demanding of us. We can legitimately seek help from colleagues, family, or our superiors. But the primary responsibility to be engaged in our profession, and in our lives in general, and to derive true work satisfaction from them, must remain ours.