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Accumulated Value

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” — George Bernard Shaw

“Those were steps for me, and I have climbed up over them: to that end I had to pass over them. Yet they thought that I wanted to retire on them.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

There are times when doing nothing seems better than stumbling along making one mistake after another. There are times when standing still seems far more attractive than sliding sideways off the cliff. We are progressing one step at a time, even as some of those steps feel like a plateau. What are we reaching for but some better version of ourselves?

As we grow and acquire skills and knowledge we become more useful. Our usefulness to others is a trade-off of sorts, a curriculum vitae of accumulated value used to trade our time and applied energy to the greater good, or at least a paycheck and a place in the room where it happens. But that accumulated value also applies to our usefulness to ourselves. We reach our potential through the climb.

I spoke with an old college friend recently. Conversations with people you haven’t seen in a long time turn into a gap analysis: What have you done in the time between then and now? Relationships, children, jobs, affiliations, beliefs and habits all fill the gap, determining who we become. Some people grow apart, some grow together. Life is a game of place and time, yet we still have a say in who we might be. The thing is, a conversation like that allows us to see the gap in ourselves too. Those steps passed over summarized as growth and setbacks, lessons learned or missed, all bringing us here.

Do we like the view? We must remember that we’re simply passing over another step. It’s helpful to ask what value we’re accumulating in this present state, and how that might ease our ascent to the next. For the journey continues this day.

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