The Zig Zag Life

A life of purpose, learning and work for change is rarely a straight line.

As the speakers at Do Lectures Australia told their stories, I went looking for patterns. The journeys were as diverse as the achievements of these remarkable people. However one shape kept recurring in the patterns of my notes of the talks:

The Zig Zag


The Do Lecture speakers shared their stories with openness and vulnerability. They laid out their doubts and setbacks. We heard stories to make you cry and to lift your heart. The speakers had dealt with dreams that can’t be achieved, success that turns to heartbreak and the need to balance inner demons.

As a result, there were many stories of zigzags. These major changes of direction were as a result of:

  • new events ranging from surprise opportunities to devastating loss
  • new purpose whether the sudden insight or the gradual dawning of meaning
  • new people from meeting complete strangers in the remotest corners of the earth to rediscovering yourself with the help of others.

We often think of successful careers and lives as an elevator straight up to success. Sudden rapid elevation is usually a feature of only small periods of time. Only the truly lucky progress without experiencing the doubts, effort, setbacks and changes of direction.

Instead it is far more common to see people zig zag as they learn, improve and find greater purpose. The travels of the story are not a random walk. All the paths lead back to purpose repeatedly and each return is informed by hard won learning. All the paths took sustained effort and emotional toil but the learning and work was its own reward.

So next time you start to despair at the mess of the ongoing changes in your life, remind yourself that learning and change are a part of growth. As hard as it may be to make change, those who take new directions learn and do more.

Waiting your life for an elevator will lead to far more disappointment. Those who follow the zigzags that life offers learn that the work itself provides the rewards.

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