Embracing Highs and Lows

There are no waves to ride without the tide.

If there were no highs and lows – no ebbs and flows – the beach might be kind of boring. It’s hard to imagine a still ocean, perfectly predictable and smooth.

It’s much more entertaining to imagine the sound of waves crashing on the shoreline, the currents under the surface carrying turtles and dolphins, and the never-ending deposit of shells onto the sand.

Variety is the spice of life.

It’s so easy to forget that predictability would be boring, especially when we crave stability in the face of uncertain situations. Yet the same plain life that would rob us of great experiences is what we strive for. When we encounter a high, we want it to last forever. We act surprised when things inevitably return to normal, or worse, we encounter a low. These reactions are a byproduct of our internal programming, but they don’t have to rule us.

Take for example the hero’s journey. The greatest stories ever told are the ones about heroes who overcame unbeatable odds. Using this framework to build a story is almost guaranteed to produce an engaging tale that keeps us on the edge of our seats, wondering how the hero will climb out of the bottomless pit of failure to reach the mountain of success.

These great stories would be nothing without the lows that precede the highs. It’s boring storytelling to say “The man set out to climb the mountain. He did not have any trouble with it. It was an all around pleasant experience.”

So why do we fight so hard to remove all obstacles from our stories? Why do we get stuck in the lows and quit working towards a high? Why do we wish we could coast on our latest accomplishment all the way to retirement?

After thinking it through for myself, I’ve realized that it’s equal parts natural and artificial. I believe it’s natural to want good things and try to keep away from bad things. It helps us survive. The artificial part about kicking and screaming to hold onto the highs and avoid the lows is that I’m usually doing it to impress other people.

But the funny thing about that is, other people relate more to the realities in our lives. When we look at other people on hard times, sometimes it’s easier to think that they’re just facing something external. We tell them they’ll get through it, because we know deep down that sometimes life just hits you. We should give the same grace to ourselves.

We should also celebrate more in our own victories like we do for others. I know I don’t always treat my wins like they’re a big deal, but I’ll make a big show of getting excited when my friend gets a new job or nails a project. I know what they’ve accomplished came after some lows, and I know they should soak it up because the highs come and go. We should apply the same logic and enthusiasm for our own wins.

Once I realized that I can’t expect the highs to stay or make them come more often, it was a freeing experience. I reject the notion that we can always be at maximum productivity, on top of the mountain of positivity, and looking down at the world with a hopeful gleam in our eye.

Sometimes, life will suck. It will be difficult. We’ll have low motivation and feel inadequate. But that doesn’t mean we should let it distract us from seeing the natural pattern of highs and lows.

I am thankful that life has its highs and lows. The challenges prepare me to act gracefully when I achieve a victory. The wins give me the confidence I need to face difficult situations or to take a loss on the chin and keep moving.

Life works out a balance of its own. We can’t control it or plan for every move it’s going to make. We just have to accept that there will be highs and lows, and know how to act accordingly. Equipped with experience and a determination to learn, if we embrace the highs and lows, we’ll be much better off for it.

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