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Do You See Your Lifepath As Linear Or Cyclical?

I’ve always considered the idea of a ‘lifepath’ too simple. I don’t think a linear mentality gets to the heart of life’s ups and downs.


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Nate Ansari

a year ago | 4 min read

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

I’ve always considered the idea of a ‘lifepath’ too simple. I don’t think a linear mentality gets to the heart of life’s ups and downs.

For me, a lifepath conjures images of a barren, rocky landscape, only punctuated by a paved pathway surrounded by ditches. Many forks have directional points, while others are marked only by your presence, the winds obscuring the paved road with a blanket of rock sediment. When you stumble into the ditch, it hurts, but usually, you can climb back out. And then you continue down the road, anticipating the next fork.

We tend to think of life as something forward-moving, in sync with the uncaring nature of time.

It makes life sound….boring.

For example, when I think of the damage ME/CFS inflicted on my life, I don’t think of it as a linear experience. Whether talking about the push-crash cycle or daily monitoring symptoms, it’s less a straight path than it is cyclical. We may move forward through time but our lives are dominated by massive cycles, looping back around, though never quite in the same spot.

Certainly more complex than the concept of a linear lifepath.

Remaking Ourselves with Gold

A core element to a cyclical outlook on life is how we handle trauma and change.

I imagine our lives shattered into pieces (because it does shatter) and only we have the power to fit the pieces back together. Part of this inspiration came from the concept of kintsugi.

It’s a Japanese art form that sees broken things as fixable rather than trash.

A broken object is fixed using lacquer and gold or silver dust. Each crack, chip, or otherwise forms a unique art, where the gold or silver displays its faults with pride. The object becomes reformed as something more beautiful than before it shattered.

Credit: Haragayato via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]
Credit: Haragayato via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Is it any wonder I see my life as a kintsugi piece? Hell, I became a freelancer because of ME/CFS, and that was something I wanted from a long time ago. I brought myself back to a point where I could see the past and the future intertwining. Reforging myself meant really seeing myself.

Compare this to the idea of stumbling off the lifepath. You fall into the ditch, maybe lose your way until you find another path, but you always move forward. There’s no recognition of the damage done in the past because they take the form of bumps along the way. External from the imagined self walking the path.

You can see why the idea of rebuilding appeals to me. I think the concept allows us to display our scars rather than hide them away or see them as things of the past. Instead of being ashamed of shattering and hiding it away, we own the past and inform our future through it.

Is The Linear Lifepath Simpler?

I wonder where this idea of a life path comes from.

Maybe from religion? After all, we’ve long debated whether our lives are self-determined or pre-determined by a Maker. It’s an interesting debate, if narrow in scope, but it touches on how we think of our personal responsibility. If things are pre-determined, then anything I do is justified because my Maker made me do it. By removing ourselves from the consequences, we can blame the very thing we believe created us.

Alternatively, self-determination is placing everything on your shoulders. We are all Atlas, carrying the most important decisions and things on our backs. The anxiety and indecision smother some while selfishness dominates others. If everything is self-determined, how do we weigh our responsibilities? How do we acquire our morals?

In a sense, thinking about life as linear is easier; it meets the needs of both thoughts. A pre-determined path with self-determination appearing as the forks in the road. Given a handful of options, we can still pretend we made our choice independently. Whether or not you follow a gospel or your own ideals, a figurative lifepath eases the weight on your shoulders. You just have to look forward.

It makes the complications of life simple.

Photo by Rémi Jacquaint on Unsplash
Photo by Rémi Jacquaint on Unsplash

We Are Architects

The idea of kintsugi only touches a part of the idea of cyclical thinking. I think of us as architects molding ourselves as needs arise. We are as much the crafter and the crafting material. The dynamics are more complex but offer us a breadth of options when approaching life.

A cycle implies life is a constant state of evolution and maintenance.

By thinking this way, we don’t see life’s hurdles as solely negative. It’s our mentality that lets us say we don’t expect everything to be good all the time, and still carry on. When something happens, it becomes part of the mold, and it’s up to us how we integrate it into our craft. We become the primary architect of our own lives.

I think having a cyclical mindset toward life gives you a level of patience you can’t get on a forward path.

That’s because we spend as much time maintaining our lives as we do crafting. It’s a balance. If you’re only looking forward, you can’t see how the past will creep up on you. The cracks and chips of age and trauma remain ingrained within the very being of you. The choice isn’t ignoring them, but how you incorporate them in yourself.

Is It A Lifepath Or A Self-Made Creation?

As you can probably tell, this idea has been fermenting in my head for a while.

I think the more we perceive our lives as cyclical, the more we realize how multi-dimensional and malleable they are. It’s constant work that requires patience and a willingness to forgo total control. It’s accepting the damage of the past and carrying it in us as we head into the future. In short, we become more adaptable. Like in kintsugi, we remake ourselves with each new chip and crack.

All we have to do is apply a little gold.

What do you think? Is the lifepath too simplistic or does it get to the heart of the matter? What do you imagine best fits your idea of life?

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Nate Ansari

Freelance editor and writer. A top writer for gaming here on Medium. Writer for Superjump, The Startup, and The Ascent. For inquiries, contact at http://nathanielansari.com/


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