On how to play the long game

16 December 2016

On the corner of my desk is a book I’m currently reading, a thick hardcover wrapped in a black-and-white photograph of the book’s author, Bruce Springsteen. He looks out from a Jersey side street sometime in the 1970s, leaning against a car parked in dirty snow. His hair is wild, his leather jacket scuffed, his face unlined and formed in an expression of slight incredulity, as if to say, “Can you believe this is happening? Someone taking a photo of me, of all people, here, of all places?” That moment there, caught in the headlights of what was to come, in the shadow of where he came from. This moment here, held in witness by my pen and paper at my desk.

I learned how to tell stories from Bruce Springsteen, how and why. I learned how to recognize the pain and struggle of the people I grew up disconnected from. I learned how to emphasize with loss and hopelessness. And I learned how to tell the tale of escape, of believing in yourself enough to get past all the reasons why you shouldn’t be able to get away. Reading his memoir is not revelatory, because all that was in his songs, long since memorized by heart. But the book gives the stories context, and makes me consider my own. The context of the journey from there to here and beyond.

The past year, while not one of great universal success and progress, ended up being one of significant internal growth for me, and I am feeling the growing pains. I have shuffled off the illusions I once carried, departed from old paths and started moving in new directions—some directions that were actually what I had initially turned my compass towards, many years ago, and which I’ve now just figured out how to get back to. Once you find stability in all, or at least many, of those things adults are meant to achieve, you are prompted with the question of what it is that you truly want to achieve. How your story will be read, down the road. At a certain point in life, you consider this question differently than you do when you’re younger. It isn’t all fire and desperation and hope anymore. It’s becomes more quiet thought and regular work. It’s holding the awareness of yourself in the moment within the larger context, of whatever you have determined is your goal. It takes self-discipline and self-awareness and consistency and flexibility and fire and desperation and hope and thought and work, all at the same time.

If there’s any lesson you can take out of 2016, let it be that of how to play the long game. Let the disappointment and hurt exist in a space contained by something bigger, whether it is for you or for the world or for the exquisite connection between the two. Remember the stories of those who have fought and won. Take note of their, and your own, mistakes. Take breaks, and then get back in the game. Don’t let the fact that it’s a lengthy one drain you; instead, remember it’s not going to be called with certainty for long, long time and that there are a lot more chances ahead.

I’m not yet finished reading about Bruce, although I know where he ends up. What I don’t know is exactly what it took to get there. I don’t know the complex, connect-the-dots path criss-crossing over the course of his life, just like I don’t know where I will end up. I don’t know what’s going to happen as we move into the new year. All I know is that you turn one page at a time, until the story is complete.


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