Many years ago, I had a pinched sciatic nerve, which lead to months of chiropractic treatments. There was a poster at the entrance to the office, with two graphs on it. In the one on the left, the line went straight at a forty-five-degree angle. And in the one on the right, there were more dips and peaks. The point was that healing doesn’t happen in a straight line and don’t be discouraged by the valleys that follow a peak. They’re completely normal.
I scowled at that poster on every single visit. Because why can’t healing be straightforward? And why do I have to learn patience?
And now I have Inflammatory Arthritis, and my healing is following an even slower and more annoying trajectory than my back did. Because between all those peaks and valleys are the plateaus. And I really hate the plateaus. They’re long and boring, and it feels like nothing is happening and don’t anyone mention patience to me when I feel like I’m stuck on one. Surely I’m patient enough by now, I think, while sighing and drumming my fingers and waiting for the damn magic to happen already!
Life teaches you the lessons you need to learn, whether you want to or not. And you can rail against it, or you can take a deep breath and see what it’s trying to teach you.
Because now that I’m familiar with the plateau process in healing, I’m starting to see that pattern in other parts of my life. And while it’s embarrassing to admit that it took me this long, I will happily share my knowledge with anyone else who may be struggling.
Lately, our finances and my writing career feel like my body does when I’m coming to the end of a plateau phase – stuck, discouraged, and deeply frustrating. Everything feels like shit for a bit and then, BOOM! Onto the next level.
It’s not that our finances are bad. We’re saving steadily for retirement, even though Alan says he never wants to do that.
That kind of slow, steady savings gets a bit boring. It’s hard to mark the progress when you’re setting the same amount aside week after week with no real finish line in sight.
And the writing? I’m doing it and getting some good responses, but the fame and the riches are, as yet, elusive.
And it’s only recently that I’ve thought to wonder if all growth works like this? Have I been missing the signals my whole life?
I think I have. And worse, I think I’ve walked away from things when they were at this stage, mistaking the discouragement and frustration for signs that I ought to quit, ought to try something new.
I don’t regret the adventures we’ve had. I don’t even regret the quitting. All put together, it’s what brought us here, and I like being here.
But man! If I could have avoided some of the panic. And the tearful recriminations. If I could have realized that the frustration and discouragement didn’t mean I was doing something wrong, that I was failing.
I mean, a lot of the quitting was valid. There were so many situations where working through the frustration and getting to the next plateau wouldn’t have made me enjoy what I was doing in any way. I’ve never been any good at wanting what people tell me I’m supposed to want. If I don’t see the point of something, I’ll walk away at the earliest opportunity, if not before, much to the dismay of various friends and family members.
My mother despaired of me. “You’ve got to develop stick-to-it-iveness!” she would say when I announced yet another change of plans.
When you’re climbing the wrong ladder, you’re climbing the wrong ladder, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to climb back down and look for another one, no matter what the sunk costs or how much you’re “supposed” to want it.
But once you’ve found it, once you know that this is what you’re meant to be doing, then you need to find ways to weather the plateaus and the valleys.
I’ve set myself the goal of putting a hundred posts on Medium by Canadian Thanksgiving (October 14). It’s looking like I won’t quite make it, but I’ve got over seventy. I’ll get close.
I even made myself a little chart with a hundred squares on it, and I get a ridiculous amount of pleasure colouring one in every time I post.
There will be a celebration for the hundredth post. Heck, I might even put on pants! See, because when you work from home, tapping away on your laptop, you never have to get dressed and that alone almost makes it worth the struggle.
I don’t have a chart for the savings. But I am tracking progress on my phone so that when the discouragement starts to nag at me, I can look back and see that the increments are adding up to something, that it is worthwhile to keep plugging along.
It’s like the pep talks I give myself when my health plateaus. I remind myself of the time when I could barely get out of bed, when a trip to the bathroom required a two-hour nap to recover. When a forty-minute drive to the nearest beach was physically impossible for me, so I didn’t get my toes in the sand for two entire summers!
It’s better now. I’m making progress on all three fronts. Though I still recommend against any talk of patience.
They say when you’re attempting to accomplish something, you should keep your eyes on the pinnacle.
But when you’re in the middle of one of those frustrating, discouraging plateaus, it’s good to look back and see just how far you’ve come.
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