the book of answers (for our lives)

Last week a friend and I spent an evening philosophizing about life over a sangria special at one of my favorite places in Lincoln Park. The conversation started because the friend is unsure about a significant life decision. Though there were lots of particulars in the conversation that are unique to her life circumstances, the theme and arc of the conversation could apply to all of us in our major life choices as well.

As we spoke, it occurred to us that as people, we so often want to go out and “seek an end-all-be-all answer” to our life-altering choices. We wonder, deep down, if there is an secret text or sage that might provide us with the keys we need to a successful life, a fulfilling marriage or relationship, and a satisfying purpose-driven career. I can attest to this myself, it seems so comforting to think that there may be some ultimate answer to all my uneasiness that I can discover if I look hard enough. But what we realized in last week’s conversation, is that the reality might actually be that we are seeking answers from some third-party source when really, the answers we are looking for need to be self-authored.

Perhaps we need to write our own answers for a successful life, a fulfilling marriage or relationship, and a satisfying purpose-driven career. And perhaps we should be writing these answers in our life books in pencil, making room for editions and changes. Though it seems easier to assume that there is just One Right Answer to these questions, maybe the answers (and the questions) change as we evolve. And maybe we could get more comfort from knowing that these phases will pass like the seasons, rather than seeking a decree etched in stone.

But if we write the answers to these questions ourselves, we also have to account for the fact that as authors, we may not be ready to right the book just yet. That we may leave a few pages blank for weeks or months, gathering information and allowing ourselves to later write the answers. And then, once we’ve filled the volume, we have to allow for second, third, and fourth editions.

Though it is tempting to think there may be a Cliffs Notes summary of our lives just waiting to be discovered, our answers might best be lived through a series of books which reflect our growing understanding of ourselves.

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  1. what a great post! perfectly worded to be thought-provoking instead of infuriatingly zen =)

  2. Cathy

    Another wise post. It also reminds me of your “get off your ‘but'” post. Sometimes we just need to do something or look inside ourselves instead of looking for answers and approval from others. And…this method even allows ourselves to be less than perfect!

  3. Annie

    What a perfectly well-worded post. I think we spend a great deal of time focused on those “right” answers– unfortunately, most often, they’re the answers that don’t exist. I’m a firm believer in the fact that some things, we’re just meant to figure out (sometimes messily) on our own. Those are the lessons and the choices we’ll remember most.

  4. @chicspace/M

    I love this post. I think there’s another reason we look to others for our answer. Part of it is needing to take responsibility for our decisions, both the possibility of success and of failure (and failure is only rewriting the book or editing the book or throwing out the book and buying a whole new one…oooh new stuff!). In all seriousness, by using someone else’s recipe for success, we can avoid blame when it doesn’t work.

    There is usefulness in seeking out the advice, though, if it’s only to add another set of words, or a paragraph, or maybe a setting, to the book. A blogger I follow (I can’t remember who) has a quote to the effect that one is the sum of all the people they’ve known, that we pull a little bit from each of our friends into ourselves (probably from enemies, too…). So in the end, we can pick and choose what people might suggest as options, we can take their experiences or their dreams, and weave it into our own narrative. But, as you said, it needs to be our own narrative, not theirs. And we need to keep rewriting it as we go.

  5. Kendi

    Very well said. I needed to hear that this morning, friend ūüôā

  6. cailen

    what a great post! i, too, find myself seeking answers from outside sources, but it’s always best to look to ourselves to discover what we truly need/want/deserve/desire. it takes a lot of practice…i’m still working on it….

  7. Awesome awesome post! I especially like the idea that our “answers” may change over time, and that we sometimes need a break or aren’t ready to write our answers. I feel like sometimes I search within myself too much, but I do believe the answers within us will rise to the surface.

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