In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Obstacle Course.”
Usually the biggest obstacles to achieving a goal are the distractions all around me. But I’m not worried about the distractions that so many people use to procrastinate like Facebook or Instagram. It’s the ones that might turn into a goal in themselves, a new project, a new subject to learn. I call those sort of distractions rabbit holes.
Like when I hear a song on an intro to a show that I like and upon googling it and finding the song amongst the hits and looking up the artist and finding out it’s a group in a genre that I like that not only have I never heard of but they have albums in the top 100s lists of prominent music reviewers. I am rewarded with a chest of metal and some of it will be gold but it is a reward for being curious and now I have the pleasure of sitting down and opening it and searching through and finding the gemstones and precious metals amongst the rubble. If I hadn’t chased that rascal of a rabbit, and studied or cleaned like I was supposed to, then I would have lost that treasure.
The other day, a friend texted me about our performance in our organic chemistry lab back when we took it. We are both instructors for the same class now, and we talked about how when we grade no one seems to have the same passion that we did. We texted back and forth reminiscing about how when our results weren’t quite right we would think about the lab again and he and I would discuss it over lunch or text messages later that night or throughout the week. I would replay what we did in lab over and over in my head, analyzing what we did against what the procedure called for. Sometimes I could find it, a small miscalculation or mistimed adjustment that may have caused things to go wrong, but sometimes I would replay and find we did everything according to plan and I knew that I had to figure out what could possibly be bigger than just lab errors. So I went on a dig. I searched other reports and scientific research about the solvents, reagents and methods. I scoured the dirt to find what may have gone wrong or actually been right but unpredicted and finding that small jewel at the end, even if it was just someone’s confirmation that our result was a commonality but of unknown cause, was the most pleasurable thing I know. Jumping into that hole and getting dirty and scratched led to a deeper understanding of the material.
Back when I played video games, one of my favorites was Call of Duty. It’s a shooter game, where you run around as a soldier and try to obliterate other people’s online souls. You do so in a contained area, called a map. Everyone gets used to the maps, the layout the turns the holes and corners, and gets into a groove. But every once in a while the developers release a new set of maps. No one has seen them before they just wake up in the game, in a new place, and have to explore while trying to kill and not be killed. Every time a new map set would drop my score would jump, big time. I could find the nooks and crannies and still find the enemies and remember where I had turned or last died and get back to a good spot. I guess that’s a learning curve and my score showed that I was ahead of it, but after a week or two I could feel that everyone was catching up. It’s a question I still have how do you maintain your lead?
Sometimes I feel like the hare racing a pack of tortoises, especially considering the Call of Duty story above. But for that example it was more about reaching a ceiling that everyone can climb to eventually. In life it often feels like descending into all these holes leaves me scattered and distracted while the tortoises plod along to the finish line picking up medals and high fives along the way. I dash about side to side digging, tunneling, finding jewels that no one sees or that maybe aren’t quite valuable yet. I picture myself deep underground, squeezing myself through tight spaces, scratching around and sifting handfuls of dirt. Eventually I wiggle through a tight spot that opens into a huge cave with stalagmites and stalactites and worms that glow from the ceiling and in the middle is this dusty uncut stone that resonates time eternal and I walk to it and blow the dust off of it and see the depths of some world and as I grab it from its resting place I hear the slow, evenly spaced thumps of the footsteps on the ground above me and I look up and dust falls from the ceiling and I look back down at the stone and know that I can’t carry the whole thing with me, not if I want to catch up, so I break off a small piece to remember it by and mark my map and then scurry back out to stretch my legs and pass a few turtles. And sometimes you get to the surface and glimpse another hare, running straight and true, flying into the horizon.
It is frustrating because you can’t dig your own rabbit hole. If you do it is a human hole and you have a plan of where it’s going and are in control of all of its turns and its width and depth and that is not a rabbit hole at all. This is what people who are “driven” and “focused” and who “have a goal and stick to it” do. I try to convince myself that if I dig a hole into the ground with a specific goal there will still be stones and chasms and aqueducts beneath that must be adapted to. But the joy comes from walking down a trail on a mountainside and seeing a weird dark patch behind a bush and taking a look, pushing the branches aside and seeing it’s not a hole at all and so I keep moving. Then I see out of the corner of my eye a small depression in the dirt and as I peer over it I see a hole that drops straight down into the ground into a darkness complete. I know I can drop into this place and whatever comes out of the murky corners, or whatever splits in the tunnel there are, I have the ability to triumph over it all. But that excitement only comes when I’m never sure where the next rabbit hole is.
So I fight these distractions to get my work done, but I know that embracing them makes me who I am. Sometimes the rabbit holes are dead-ends, sometimes they link up to other rabbit holes and different worlds are united. By accepting my method of gaining knowledge, I removed the guilt of not being focused. I am still learning how to control the impulse to go on a dig, but I know there is no better path to the finish line than my own.