Becoming a Phoenix

Jacques Derrida, one of the key figures in Post-Modernism from France has many viewpoints that I’m critical of (post-modernist theory being one of them), but he had one phrase that, while I have no access to the context of, when taken on it’s own inspires some thought. While Derrida himself may be at least partially responsible for many of the problems we face in how people interact today, especially considering the rise of identity politics on both wings of the political spectrum and the chaos that we are experiencing because of it, the quote I found from him is something we can all learn from.

In his words, “whoever said that one is born just once?” Looking at what the question could mean from different perspectives, it’s important to unpack the phrase and really look at what it could mean for us in our ever-evolving lives. Throughout our lives, we encounter turning points, where we face a choice, and the choices we make can drastically change the circumstances of our lives. Maybe a tragedy happened and you were forced to relocate, or your company shuts down the plant you’re working in. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for real growth in another town, so you uproot yourself to take it. Maybe the very architecture you had built your life around turned out to be a lie, or wasn’t as stable as you thought it was, as is often the case when divorce or break up happens.

Often in these cases, you find that you’re having to start over, and rebuild a life, or a career you had once been very successful and comfortable in. The whole notion can be incredibly daunting, because you look back at what you had built, now rubble, wondering what it was all for. Why put so much effort into building something, if it can so easily and suddenly be demolished?

No matter what, every time you build something, you learn from the experience; that experiential learning cannot be taken away from you. That means that the next time you build things, it’ll be faster, and stronger than the previous attempt. When that one fails, and it likely will because life by its nature is iterative, you have an even stronger foundation to build on, and you’ll find that each time the building comes down, more of it is left to build upon. Rarely do we lose everything unless it’s either deliberate, by ourselves or an outside force, or because what we were doing was outside the bounds of the law; if the latter is the case, you need to seriously reevaluate why you chose to build on that foundation.

You can always take the skills you learned from the last attempt you made, and apply them to the next opportunity. Sometimes the next opportunity doesn’t happen immediately; it can be months, or even years before the opportunity to try again comes up, but these waiting periods can be spent sharpening other skills that are needed to make your next attempt that much better.

Life itself is very mechanical in nature; it works on a single class of fuel and it spools up and down based on what octane you put into it. You can be reborn, dozens of times, because in the end life is nothing but a series of feedback loops. As good things start to happen, they will happen more often geometrically so long as you don’t do anything to stop the momentum and keep applying the fuel. Similarly, if bad things start to happen and you apply the fuel to it, things will get progressively worse.

So that raises the question, what is the fuel and why would anyone want to apply it to make things worse? Simply put, the fuel is the mental and physical effort we put into what is happening. Even if you don’t consciously realize it, as things begin to spiral up or down, your brain helps it along by changing your attitude, and your thought process toward what is occurring. This can dynamically change how you handle the situation you’re in. So if you find things spiraling out of control in a downward direction, take the time to ask yourself why it’s happening. What you could do to fix it, or what steps are necessary to fix it. Is it something that can be fixed, or is there an exit strategy to get off a sinking ship? Often it takes help, and this can be especially hard for those of us that hate asking for it.

No matter what happens, you have to remember that you can always recover from a setback. You can defeat addiction, you can rebuild a career, you can build a new relationship. Just never give up on it–you can be reborn.

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