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S-Curves of Life
This geeky diagram means a lot to me. I learned it first when I was exposed to a little bit of innovation theory and its "s-curves." We'd like to think of our lives evolving, in baby steps — little increments that gently move us along to self-fulfillment or whatever we feel the purpose of life is. But it just ain't so. Either life smacks us with a change or we decide that staying in our comfort zones will lead to our slow stagnation and decay.
Consider the S-curve. (1) You start something — a marriage, a job, a project, a spiritual quest. It's hard. It's slow because you don't know what you don't know. Ugh — the learning curve.
(2) But then you catch on and start making some progress. Your sense of mastery moves along faster. (3) You hit a sweet spot — a comfort zone, where all your new skills have become second nature. Life is humming. But you've also hit a plateau — diminishing returns . Are you happy with the status quo? Let's say you like the status quo but the world around you has changed — the husband is gone, the job has changed, the new software release is on your desk.
You face the facts. You can cling to your comfort zone like a buggy whip manufacturer in 1925 — satisfied with who you are but facing certain decline. Or you can take the leap to the new path of progress, the next S-curve. Unfortunately you aren't quite sure where that new S-curve is or how far you will drop. Aaaaiiiiieeeee!! — you're in the (4) Transition Zone.
Chaos. Terror. Where the hell are you going to land??? The next S-curve is still an unknown journey. The only thing you know is that your comfort zone is gone, your sense of fulfillment has been sucker-punched, your skills are useless. Your best hope is that you land at the bottom end of another damn learning curve and not completely off the grid.
Sometimes you step off the edge of your comfort zone unaware of what you've done. The chaos is slow to catch up with you and it's only in retrospect that you realize what started the tumult and your rebirth into the next phase of growth. This quotation has been making the rounds:
Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these. [Susan B Anthony]
As I write my little memoir pages and try to create a narrative — cause and consequences — I think about those times when I "chose" to launch myself into the Transition Zone. I think to myself, "wasn't I adventurous to leave St Louis, to stay in Chicago, to leave Chicago, to leave Florida, to stay in New York, to leave a marriage, to leave a career?" But who knows? Maybe all along I was fighting like mad to stay IN my comfort zone. And it's only in retrospect that I notice the stray dogs.
Ah, so much navel-gazing, so little time...
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The S-Curve: What's Wrong with Success? by Rajagopal Sukumar.