Morning Prayers address by Lara Glass, Student Program Fellow, Memorial Church of Harvard University, Jan. 29, 2019 in the Memorial Church. Photo by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” —Steve Jobs
I first heard this quote by Steve Jobs when I was a senior in college, a time exceptionally filled with unknowns. I went to Grinnell College, a small liberal arts school in rural Iowa surrounded by cornfields and an expansive prairie sky.
The Grinnell Press, a student run publication that would review student applications for projects and choose a number of them to print and make available to the Grinnell community, had accepted my project proposal entitled, ‘Little Wisdoms.’ I worked to compile different sources of inspiration from the Grinnell community. I asked for submissions from students, staff, faculty, and alumni. People provided quotes, referenced paintings and musical albums, rituals and routines that guided or inspired them. It was a bit of an ode to a community that I felt embraced by, that I grew up in, that I loved dearly and as a graduating senior was struggling to accept was coming to a close.
A good friend and housemate of mine who had graduated the year before submitted this quote as one of her grounding inspirations. In the years since I have come back to this sentiment over and over again. I reference it in conversations, I have with friends, with students that I support and advise. I bring it up with my sisters when they are trying to make sense of difficult decisions and anxiety about their futures. I contemplate it myself as I plan for my own life and examine my own sometimes seemingly meandering path.
I have often struggled with balancing concrete goals with wanting to be open to change and to unexpected opportunity. I fear that if I have goals too seemingly set in stone I will be myopic to differently rewarding possibilities. I have tried to challenge myself to trust my intuition, the feelings that surround an opportunity, or a decision. At the same time, I try to give myself space and time to analyze, rather than to act out of impulse.
So, for me, this quote holds a lot of comfort and meaning. All I can do is make the best decision I am able to make in a given context, taking into account a variety of responsibilities and limitations. From there, much else is out of my control. Mistakes will happen along the way, but I trust that ultimately I will look back and see the connection between the dots of my life.
Sometimes I imagine this process as a road trip. Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the vastness of the West was made familiar by way of road trips with my family. We always had goals in mind for the trip, destinations along the way, an ultimate end spot we planned to reach. But looking back it was actually the diversions, the unplanned excursions and the company around me that stands out as most defining.
I remember a stop we made in Vernal, Utah when I think I was about 10 years old or so. In my mind, and still to this day, Vernal, Utah is defined by being a magical land of dinosaurs. A high concentration of dinosaur bones was unearthed near the town and so everything (at least as I remember it) in this small town was dinosaur themed. The roadside restaurants, gas stations, hotels, all seemed to have a brightly colored dinosaur welcoming us in.
The countless hours spent in the car in company of my two sisters and parents rather than a locus of particular memories melds together as a landscape of growth. This landscape is painted with conversations and music, books on tape and silence, as well as arguments and conflict. These hours spent getting from place to place rather than a byproduct of the destinations, I think, were in fact the central experiences.
In this way, as we go along our lives working toward goals we strive for, I think we must also notice and appreciate the passengers beside us, to trust in meaningful meanderings along our path; to take a turn we didn’t plan on because the markers or the company makes a new kind of sense. Those meanderings might in fact turn into a solid dot in our life that only makes sense looking back.
As we face decisions today and every day, may we trust and feel guided by that which pulls us with integrity, even if on the surface, it doesn’t look like it makes obvious sense. Who knows, we may even find that, as for my 10-year-old self, a diversion to a magical dinosaur town is in fact exactly what we didn’t know we needed.