Impermanence: Highs, Lows, Slumps, and Plateaus

Photo Credit:  Jonathan Selkowitz

Photo Credit: Jonathan Selkowitz

This piece was originally published on the ZGiRLS website on December 11, 2015.

Nothing is permanent. This, I know.

I’ve had a career end, my body break, and relationships wane. I’ve changed houses, changed jobs, changed states. I’ve seen glaciers recede (and cities grow) with my own two eyes. I watch a loved-one decline at the grips of an unfair disease.

Consider mother nature. Every time that summer turns into fall, and winter turns into spring, we are reminded of the truth that lies in the saying: “the only thing constant, is change.” Literally all of life is in the endless cycle of birth, life, and death.

Yet, with all of that in mind, many of us share the human urge to make things permanent. An expectation that things ought to stick around. Especially the “good” things.

When a relationship is going well, we expect it to stay that way. When our physical health is good, we expect it to stay that way. When we’re succeeding at work, sport…life…We expect it to stay that way. And when the (fill in the blank: person, physical condition, performance, you name it) changes – which they inevitably do – we suffer in grief and frustration.

I don’t deny that broken relationships, injuries, and poor performances are sad or disappointing – they are. But there is something to be said for understanding, and accepting, impermanence. The fact of the matter is: things come into and go out of existence. States change. It is neither good nor bad. Much like the changing of seasons, it is a cycle. It just is.

I remember when I was ranked 10th in the world, moving back in the rankings wasn’t even a consideration. In my mind, I’d at least maintain that ranking, and if anything, I’d get better. Of course, throw a knee injury and subpar equipment into the mix, and (predictably) I didn’t stay 10th forever.

That said, my mindset and experience weren’t unique. I’m not the only athlete who, after making a correction to my technique, believed I’d hang onto that improvement for all of time. And I certainly couldn’t accept that sometimes moving backwards was part of progressing forward.

Slumps and plateaus – in sports and in life – are not inherently bad. They just are. And they certainly shouldn’t be unexpected. One of my favorite quotes from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is, “The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.”

Stumbling blocks make us, well… stumble. But they don’t have to make us fall. So, how do you turn a stumbling block into a stepping stone?

  1. Don’t get stuck on what “was.” Refrain from gripping onto something that has passed. Relinquish your expectation for permanence, and it will be easier to accept change.

  2. Ask yourself, how can I evolve and improve? How can I adapt to change? How can I create something positive out of this?

  3. Be flexible. Assess, plan, and adapt. Embrace your new reality.

  4. Commit to a path moving forward.

There is a sense of freedom that comes with “going with the flow.” Let yourself grow. People who embrace flux – those who truly embrace change – not only suffer less, but also are more nimble in the face of adversity.

Nothing is fixed. This too shall pass.