Carol Osborne, author of The Art of Resilience: One Hundred Paths to Wisdom and Strength in an Uncertain World coined this analogy. Here’s the essence. She says, “In our society, we are encouraged – pressured, really– to achieve success and to achieve it in a straight line of ascent – a stick. We’re not supposed to let anything get in our way; we just need to keep after it, keep moving, keep fighting . . .” Orsborn suggests that, instead of striving to be a stick, perhaps we should aspire to the spiral. Life is constant change and the spiral teaches us that, even as things change, they come back around again. Not in an endless circle, but in a gentle, slower ascent.
I was reminded of the stick and the spiral just this past weekend.
So my husband and I were sitting at a restaurant last Saturday along with 30 others, waiting for the guest of honor to arrive for his 50th birthday. We were also waiting to see the cast list for a musical in which our 14 year old auditioned. She wanted a particular part in this production—badly. She practiced—hard. She researched the role. She prepared. We had never seen her so focused, so “all in.” And this was a big deal; she’s easily discouraged and isn’t one to put herself out there when risk is involved. For this reason, we were anticipating the outcome as much as our daughter—and, truth be told, we all thought she would get the part.
No surprise…she was cast in the play, but didn’t get the part she wanted. Our daughter was alternately furious, confused, and very disappointed with the outcome—the stick. By the time dinner came on Sunday she had gone from the stick to the spiral. Rather than blame the director or the other girl who got the role, she was determined to go to the first rehearsal and “see what they had in mind” for her role. She was still sad. She was still confused. But she was clearly the spiral–open to other possibilities.
OK. If my 14 year old can do this, I figure I can, too. Because I tend to be the stick much more often than the spiral. I get caught up in the belief that up is the best and only way to go. That downward slopes or rejection or set backs are bad or, at the very least, not what I should be doing.
My new friend and colleague, Maureen Ross Gemme, is a gentle and wise woman who gave me a coin inscribed with the words” Everything comes to you in the right moment.” If I’m being too “sticky” I’ll never recognize the moment when it comes.
I need to keep in mind two things:
1. Assess whether you are modeling your life after a spiral or a stick. Do you feel pressured by yourself and others to constantly move upward? That your best isn’t good enough? Have you treated yourself harshly in the past when a lull or downward movement happens in your life? If your answers to these questions are “yes”, then you are using the stick model.
2. Honor the spiral. Set backs happen; when things come back around for you, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck. It just means you are revisiting that place, but from slightly higher ground.