In some ways, the puzzle question was a great thing. As is probably obvious by the fact that I loved to play hours of trivia games at eight years old, I spent most of my childhood and, well, much of my young adulthood as something of an insufferable know-it-all. I liked being right, and I liked having opportunities to show people I could be right. I was smart, and proud of being smart, and liked to show off about it. Now, I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing--nobody would fault a kid who was good at basketball for wanting to perform in front of people, or a kid who was really fast for wanting to run track, or a kid who was good at violin for wanting to play at recitals. Being proud of what you're good at isn't bad. But there weren't a lot of opportunities for me to be really challenged in our poor rural school district, and I really needed to occasionally be given a puzzle I couldn't solve.
In other ways, though, the puzzle question--or, rather, my perhaps inborn need to be constantly on-guard for the puzzle question--has left me in a bit of a pickle. Life, it turns out, isn't a trivia game, and the value of trivia knowledge is quickly outlived by the need for flexibility and taking things in stride. As an adult, I've often found myself waiting for the proverbial trick question, trying to make sure I don't miss it, because I've been certain that there's got to be a moment--just one moment, easy to miss if I'm not paying attention--that will determine whether my life is a success or failure, an image of my dreams or something I can't bear.
It was surprisingly recently that I realized both how dedicated I've been to trying to catch the trick question, and how utterly silly that really is. Life, despite all cultural narrative to the contrary, is not a series of steps that one can get wrong or right in order to reach success or failure. You can make choices that, statistically will be good for you based on your wishes, needs, and abilities, but ultimately it's not about those big choices. For most people, it's less about what you study or which job board you search than it is about whether you happen to make the right connections. I came into adulthood with the mindset that if I accomplished my set of tasks, I'd be fine. I failed to recognize until much later that it wasn't going to be that simple, and that just like everyone else I would have to grow and change and move through life at slow, sometimes tedious pace that's just the way it works.
A few months ago I exchanged e-mails with a dear friend as I started the process of seeking doula certification. Because her family situation is outside the norm, I had asked her if there were any particular things that someone in my kind of role could have done to make her children's births easier on the family unit. Part of her response, though given in the context of that conversation, really rang true to me in a larger way, and I've written it on scraps of paper and carried it around in my wallet for months now. She said, "The truth is that there are very, very few life-changing moments. The moments don't matter nearly as much as I thought they would. What matters is the practice."