Looking Backwards to Connect the Dots of Your Life
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
In 2005 Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University. In it, he told the story of dropping out of college and then sitting in as an unregistered student on some classes that interested him, including one on calligraphy. He learned all about typography, and years later when he was designing the first Mac computer he integrated that knowledge and included multiple typefaces and proportionally spaced fonts. If it weren’t for that one random class he sat in on, these words would probably be much less visually-pleasing and more difficult for you to read.
I find his idea of connecting the dots looking backward fascinating, and it makes me wonder how the dots of my own life have connected to bring me where I am today: owning my own business helping others get organized. I thought I might share some of those dots with you to get you thinking about your own journey.
My earliest memory of my affinity for organizing comes from sometime in elementary school. Sticker collecting was a big fad at the time and I was very into it. One of the public libraries near my home had a club where kids could meet and trade stickers, and even though I was a shy child my parents convinced me to give it a try. They brought me to the library with my carefully curated and organized sticker book and I was shocked at the other kids’ haphazard collections! It was the first time I realized I cared about order in a way that most people didn’t.
From a young age I loved making things look neat and pretty. I liked moving around my bedroom furniture and organizing my closet and desk drawers to find the most functional arrangement. Weird, right? When I went to college I never understood my friends who left clothes lying around on the floor of their dorm rooms. Living in that small space with just the necessities was so satisfying to me.
In my late 20s I went through the difficult experiences of losing my dad and going through a divorce (I’ve written about that in detail here). I was also working at that time in a research job with terminally ill patients, and it felt for a while like I was surrounded by death. It was a strange and difficult period, but it woke me up to the fact that my time on earth is finite. After my divorce I started over in a small one bedroom apartment. I realized that dramatically paring down my living space and my stuff gave me the mental and emotional space I needed to process my big losses and figure out what came next.
That was when I became interested in minimalism, and I picked up a book at the library called The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs. To say this book had a profound impact on me is an understatement, as it opened my eyes to the idea of intentional living. In it the author says:
"Simple living is about living deliberately. Simple living is not about austerity, or frugality, or income level. It's about being fully aware of why you are living your particular life, and knowing that life is one you have chosen thoughtfully. Simple living is about designing our lives to coincide with our ideals."
This book, along with the experiences of losing my father and working with people who were dying, put me on the path toward making more conscious decisions about how I spend my time and money. Years later, after going back to school for Interior Design and then starting my own business, I knew I wanted to help spread this message to others. I generally avoid telling people they need to get organized because they’re going to die someday, but I try to impress upon them the importance of living a life that makes them happy and not letting their stuff stand in the way.
Looking back I can connect the dots. I am still a regular patron of my local library and I enjoy playing with stickers on a regular basis. I named my business Pretty Neat to reflect the things I’ve always been passionate about. And I’m doing my small part to show others the benefits of simplifying their space and the things they own. I learned how helpful this can be from the experiences of my past, but at the time I had no idea how those life lessons would impact my future. How have the dots connected to bring you to where you are today?
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