In the last year, I've wrestled with my sense of direction. I came to law school with a roughly-hewed mission with the intent of sorting it all out upon arrival.
Turns out, the sorting is pretty hard. Many of my classmates have their futures neatly sequenced, their energies bent towards well-defined means and well-defined ends like law review, clerkships, jobs at law firms, and so on. I admire their laser-like focus. To see people living their mission is to be a rare witness to another's becoming.
My process, on the other hand, has been more nebulous. I am a decision-maker in a hazy fog. Etymologically, the word decision traces to the idea of cutting off. Right now, I stand before a vast decision tree and a sharpened saw, but I haven't made many cuts. In order for the tree to grow properly, I have to prune its branches so that it can reach further towards the sun. So far in law school, I've approached the tree and left it with a number of tentative, half-sawed branches of no's. But I've come up empty with yes's, the branches that I want to use to climb upwards.
Throughout this process, I've thought a lot about the way in which one should stand before the tree. First, I don't think that I should hide my indecision. Under the surface, many if not all of us are battling with self-doubt, so I do myself no favors pretending. I'd rather invite people in than suffer alone in my confusion.
Second, I think the process of cutting off branches, choosing one to begin the ascent, and climbing upwards requires playfulness. This playfulness demands two inextricably linked movements of wondering and wandering. To wonder is to enter a mental space with lightness and imagination. To wander is to indiscriminately explore one's surroundings, to search for lost, and to make the road by walking. Wondering and wandering might ostensibly be partitioned to their respective mental and physical planes; in truth, they bleed into one another. When we wander, we feed our wonder. As we wonder, we remove the mental blocks in the way of effortlessly wandering. We need to be playful as we approach the tree. Our capacity to wonder and wander fuel this play.
Third, standing before the tree can cripple you with uncertainty if you never get moving. Here, some of my favorite words from Seneca that I've revisted recently are apt:
The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune's control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.
Only when we live immediately in the face of uncertainty do we even live at all. While I shouldn't pretend that I have everything figured out, I also shouldn't wallow in uncertainty. After all, the point isn't to stand before the tree but to feel the breeze at the top.
I don't have the answers. I don't think I ever will. What I do know is this: even as I make decisions, cut off branches, and begin my climb, other branches will grow, and I will have to backtrack in order to climb higher still. All I can hope is that I have joy in the process and have others with me climbing, laughing, loving, and growing.