Enough! More… Infinity?

“Infinity, Light, Camera” by Mari Carmen Díaz.

School is a balance of “more” and “enough.” Professors demand more effort and more work. Students ask themselves if they have done enough to earn the grade that they desire. In the end, my students tend to only put forth enough effort to earn their desired, yet mediocre grade.

Careers are often a path to the realization of “enough”. Early in my career, I wanted more money, more responsibility, and more status, so I put forth more effort and spent more time to earn all of those achievements. At some point, I had earned enough responsibility, and I began to put forth just enough effort to hold onto it. Eventually, my bosses noticed and decided my career had progressed far enough as well. I had reached my career’s ceiling, and was laid off soon after.

Marriage tends to be a path to “enough” as well. When I was young, I sought more beauty, more status, and more “happiness.” Eventually I found someone who satisfied the search for “more”, I proposed, and within hours of getting hitched, I felt the wave of “enough” wash over me. Sixteen years later, enough kids, enough money, enough unhappiness, and enough married life led to divorce.

It seems to me that media, politicians, business people, and others proselytize about achieving a balance between “more” and “enough” — often called a work-life balance. I have grown suspicious of this balance between “more” and “enough” because in practice this balance is more like two sinusoidal curves which are exactly out of phase and bounded carefully by well-defined maximal and minimal limits. The resultant balance feels more like an exchange between opposing forces, constantly reminding us that we cannot have it all. The limits are intentionally or accidentally imposed by rules, forces, people, ideas, fears, insecurities, or uncertainty.

“What does he know?” some might ask. Well, almost nothing. I have more questions than answers. For instance, “Why can’t we have it all?” I think the answer lies in the difference between “more” and “enough.” Mathematicians regularly prove theorems with infinity. “As ‘n’ tends to infinity, blah, blah…” appears throughout calculus and other advanced math courses. In general, mathematicians agree that infinity must be “enough” to prove vast, deep, and meaningful conclusions about the universe.

Under this mathematical paradigm of existence, “enough” is enough, “more” is not significantly more than “enough;” and therefore, “enough” is still enough.

After introducing infinity to calculus, mathematicians began to prove conclusions about infinity itself. For example, infinity plus one is also infinity, so although there exists more than infinity, the additional amount more than infinity is so infinitesimal in comparison to infinity that this slightly larger infinity is simply called infinity again. One could easily conclude that nothing significantly more than infinity exists. Under this mathematical paradigm of existence, “enough” is enough, “more” is not significantly more than “enough;” and therefore, “enough” is still enough.

I was convinced that this maximal “enough” should be the goal of life until one eye-opening day in an upper division college math class. On that day, our class was introduced to Georg Cantor’s revolutionary work on levels of infinity. I vividly remember sitting in class, mouth agape, as the professor proceeded to demonstrate that the infinity that I had become accustomed to as “enough” was properly smaller than another, infinitely-larger infinity. Later that week in the same class, the professor proved the existence other levels of infinity, each of which was properly larger than the last! After one of these classes, I asked the professor about these revolutionary ideas only to discover that he found Cantor’s life’s work boring. Boring?! “Life altering!” I thought.

Incidentally, Cantor’s work implied the existence of an infinity of infinities, each properly larger than the last. In the late 1800’s this idea threatened the existence of a singular, unique, omniscient God. Cantor was chastised and attacked by his colleagues, peers, and the scientific world until he finally succumbed to self-doubt and depression, effectively ending his desire and ability to pursue more ideas in this area. The world had had “enough!”

I first realized that a level of “more” well beyond my own is achievable when I watch my children grow and thrive. I tell them every chance that it fits, “You can do anything!” I am effectively urging my children to recognize my level of “enough” and to move to a higher level of “enough” that is properly larger than my own. This kind of generational transcendence happens frequently, probably because many children are not taught to be trapped wherever their parents exist.

Combining Cantor’s properly-larger levels of infinity and observed generational transcendence, I have come to the conclusion that Cantor’s ideas suggest that there exist infinitely higher levels of wealth, happiness, joy, connection, love, and satisfaction. In order to move from one level to the next, one must shift paradigms. In other words, if I understand that the world works “this way,” then I can maximally achieve infinite whatever, as defined within the current paradigm. If I can figure out how to shift the paradigm, I will understand the world “that way.” In that new paradigm, I can maximally achieve infinite whatever that is properly larger than the last.

I pondered the hopeful idea that life might just be a long novel filled with chapters characterized by properly-large paradigms.

Understanding that higher paradigms exist does nothing to shift from one paradigm to the next. I routinely turned away from “more” because outer influences and inner doubts pushed and pulled me toward a balanced work-life existence colored by mediocrity. Ironically, this carefully-crafted existence inevitably led to my darkest and deepest bottom thus far. The harsh realization that I was going to be divorced and that I was going to miss at least half of my children’s lives left me wallowing in self-pity, crushing sadness, and utter hopelessness on the floor of my bathroom. I won’t claim that there was an “ah-ha” moment while looking at my porcelain throne; however, during this dark period, I remembered that higher paradigms exists. I pondered the hopeful idea that life might just be a long novel filled with chapters characterized by properly-large paradigms.

I resolved to move to the next properly-larger plane of existence. Easier said than done! I had sabotaged myself by accepting “enough” more often than not. My “enough” was based on my current paradigm of existence, and complacency trapped me into that paradigm. I recognized that I needed to alter these core ideas, so I decided to follow three rules designed to directly counteract my past tendencies.

The first rule is seek “more.” Always “more.” I routinely ask myself, “How can I or how can this situation be more…fill-in-the-blank?” The question is simple. The answers can be profound.

The second rule is to admit that I literally understand nearly nothing. When I understand nothing, I educate myself and surround myself with people who understand some things, and I learn from them. I find this task challenging because the people from whom I learn are often trapped in their own sinusoidal curves of work-life balance. It is sometimes difficult to move past the levels of these wonderful people because I am effectively saying to them, “I want more than you can offer at this time.” See rule number one.

The third rule is a commitment to continual improvement. This means that I must constantly challenge myself to do better, live an observed life, and be grateful for failure because it offers learning opportunities. Continual improvement’s success is derived from finding enjoyment exactly where I am right now and understanding that I won’t be here for very long. See rule number one.

Although these rules have helped me break out of old patterns, new paradigms tend to emerge offering “enough.” Today, I am more aware of feeling “enough.” I more quickly reapply my rules pushing for “more” because I still have infinitely many more properly-larger levels of infinity to experience. “More,” please!