Mistaking the Forest for the Trees
I loved video games as a kid, was absolutely crazy about them. FPS(First Person Shooter) games were my favourite kind: “No One Lives Forever”, “Return to Castle Wolfenstein” and such, were the ones I grew up with. The whole idea of having a mission to complete and hurdles to overcome kept me completely in the zone throughout my teens, much to the annoyance of the big-guns(read: parents) in my life.
I wasn’t a very good player though, until much later. It turns out that I had a faulty approach to the games. At every level, I would try and finish off every goon of the other side, seeking them out very carefully, retracing my steps, sometimes all the way back from the door to the next level. I’d think that’s the point, right? You have to show your superiority on that stage of the game. It made me a very good shooter but I’d take a long time to finish each level.
It was later, when I started playing more strategically, that I discovered that I don’t have to kill every bad guy to complete the objective. The prize pretty much remained the same, no matter how long I took. So, the point from then on became to clear the level and not to get over every obstacle.
This mindset though, of fighting every single battle, remained with me as I grew up. It manifested itself in a lot of areas of life — resolving differences with everybody, setting list of goals and sub-goals that needed to be checked off before I could set them as COMPLETE. I needed to know where I stood with everybody and everything. Not a people pleaser, mind you. Just clarity in my mind, whether things are for or against me. The small victories would give instant gratification, without mattering how big a role they played in achieving the ultimate goal.
Musing on this approach sometime back, I saw the folly in it. Some battles are not worth it. Maybe they were, when they presented themselves. And maybe, just maybe, it would have been great if tackled right then. But to have a list of them, and go back every now and then to conquer them is not only foolhardy, its also dangerous.
A lot of such problems become insignificant as we move on. The point of all struggle is for us to grow and learn(if you want to get meta about it). But the growth experience provided by a specific problem is not the only option. You often surge in such unexpected ways, that the earlier experience becomes subsetted, or even unnecessary, by the new and novel ones.
We often seek to clear every sub-goal to reach the door for the next level, even if the progress by doing that is very incremental. That’s like trying to cut down every tree to reach the other end of the forest. Aren’t we better off blazing a path through it rather than owning the whole damn level?
We don’t need to have every loose-end tied up in our efforts to move ahead. It’s so much better to accept the frayed ugliness of the ropes as we hold on and push ourselves to carry on.
Move on, every battle is not worth it.