Sunday, February 3, 2013

Paradigm Shift: The Advantage of Loss

I want to talk about a paradigm shift, something that may seem backwards but when applied affects one's whole experience of the world. Here is the thought, direct from the words of Jesus: "Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but she who loses her life for my sake will save it."

In the society of which I am a part, my peers and I are constantly striving to build upon what we've gained in order to secure the life that we want, and this often means keeping and cultivating what we have already established. This could be as basic as protecting the relationships that form our immediate community or making personal investments in a current job that we like and want to grow in further. It could involve building professional connections in a local sector of an industry (in my case, expanding my network in the local, Chicago theatre scene) and staying rooted in one locality in order to sustain and create credibility for oneself in that industry.

While each of the above scenarios are all good and well in themselves and have their proper place in the development of a thriving human life, I believe there are times when to stay in that "preservation" approach can actually undermine the growth that we need for our lives to move forward into realms of greater fulfillment and effectiveness. Once again, I am not saying that being rooted and establishing relationships in credibility in one place is a bad idea. (On the contrary, this can be quite necessary and beneficial in most cases, especially for people whose normal mode of operation is the opposite, simply bouncing from place to place.) But I do feel that there is an equally unhealthy emphasis on maintaining what we have, which keeps us from experiencing what awaits us as we let go of what is safe and predictable in our current state. Confused yet? Stay with me. ;-)

Let's explore this with an example from my life as an eighth grader. For some, the formidable years of middle school (or junior high as you might know it) are years that they would rather quickly forget, including their eighth grade year. For me, however, my eighth grade experience was one of the highlights of my educational, social formation. After two years gaining my bearings and finding my place in the obtuse adventure that is a magnet arts middle school, I arrived at my eighth grade year feeling on top of the game and in control of my destiny. I was well-liked by most of my peers (you can't please everyone, can you?), felt confident and respected as an active member of the theatre department and overall really liked the community of friends and colleagues--alright--teachers--that had been established up that point. That year was one of the most joy-filled years of my life and perhaps one in which I felt the most emotionally healthy.

So here is where this example comes into play with the subject at hand. Would it not be completely wrong and self-stunting for me (and for others with me in that king-of-the-world scenario) to stay in the eighth grade for at least one more year, despite the requirements that I leave my middle school life and advance into the ranks of the high school adventure? Most if not all of you reading this would unequivocally shout a unanimous "Yes!" (or at least think that such a question is ludicrous to ask in a scenario like mind where no academic reason for repeating the grade was necessary). And in this example, it seems all too clear that to move forward from one grade to another would be the obvious progression.

But what if I were back inside that eighth grade head of mine and thinking, "Why leave this place now? My community is solid, my reputation is intact, my artistic pursuits are smiled upon. I've got it made! I need to build in this place where I've developed roots for the past three years. What's another year or two going to hurt? This is where it's at."? I wonder if this is the mentality that we all too often get stuck in when given an increasing measure of success and comfort-level in our current life situations. You may retort, "Well, we're not in middle school anymore. This is adult life. This is different." But I ask, how do we know that the state we are in is in actuality the end of the season, ready to push us forward and out into the next? This is a question that I think is worthy of addressing, but which I will not attempt to address in this moment. Rather, I want to present the thought that there is a time to move on, and that in these times, the way forward feels counter-intuitive. We must often lose to gain, and if we keep too much when it is a time to give up, we can easily lose what we hope to gain as life and others move forward while we remain glued to the past.

I am considering grad school right now in New York City. That is the the looming change that is on the horizon for me, or the possibility thereof, at least. I have been in Chicago for the past four and a half years now, and it was only in the last few months that I was able to finally produce the very show that I came up here to develop. I am brimming with a wealth of rich relationships with the community that God has given me, and in certain work scenarios, particularly in the realm of some of my theatre teaching, I feel very much established and comfortable. However, there are other factors which are not quite settled yet, which I feel leaving Chicago and pursuing graduate study in NYC would further solidify, factors which I do not see as clear a solution for were I to stay in this beautiful city. I don't necessarily want to leave Chicago, the city of dreams (as I like to call it). But if I get into this grad program in New York, I know from my Chicago experience what rewards can come from leaving one city and starting a new life in another, as painful as the losing aspects of that transition can be.

What about you? Where might God or life be directing you to give up what's comfortable in consideration of gaining something greater where risk and unpredictability are assured?

Lose to gain, gain to lose. The cycle continues. What part of the cycle might you be in right now?