When we were children, bored at school, we used to create mazes and give them to our friends to solve. If you’ve never seen one, you’re apt to think that they take hours to construct.
Actually, they only take a few minutes to draw. It’s much more difficult to solve one than to create it.
That’s because we created the mazes from the end to the beginning. We started out with the destination…
Adding false leads and paths, as the maze grew…
Until we arrived at – the very beginning!
Looking back, it seems to me that these labyrinths are a powerful metaphor for our lives and careers. Achieving fame and fortune (or whatever we deem makes us happy and successful) depends on making many decisions that we have to make along the way. If the decisions lead to success, then they seem to be correct in retrospect.
After all, didn’t Kierkegaard say that “life can only be understood backwards. Unfortunately, it has to be lived forward”.
When we do “arrive”, we look back with satisfaction at the road taken. We are proud of ourselves. So proud, in fact, that we start to believe that our choices were based on clever calculations, educated guesses, rational behavior, inspired hunches. And we re-create the story from the end (success) right back to the very beginning.
Success thus appears to sanctify the convoluted road that we took to reach it.
Very often, we think that the path we took to success can be replicated. That the decisions we took can lead us down the path once again. We teach our children and students to follow a similar path to our own, we give advice, we charge people for taking courses. Like mice who have succeeded in maneuvering the labyrinth and finding the cheese, we adopt the same path again and again, hoping that no one has moved the cheese or changed the maze.
We forget that just as each maze is different, each new life path is influenced by many extraneous factors that change over time and are unpredictable. Getting it right is no guarantee that we will do so again and again.
So my best advice is to listen to advice and either follow it or not. And to appreciate that as we go forward in life, we are at the same time creating narratives that go backwards. The way we created mazes way back in school!