Recently, Gabe asked me if I had any advice before he headed off to college, a question almost every parent looks forward to. After reflecting for a moment, I told him to say, “Yes,” to as many things as possible as he was entering a stage of expansion.
I shared with him a belief that has become a cornerstone in my understanding of life’s journey: we all move through repetitive cycles of expansion, contraction, and concentration. At any given time, different aspects of our lives are navigating through one of these phases, with many running in parallel.
We are, by nature, cyclic beings. Just as the Earth has its seasons, and the body has its rhythms, our life journey also follows a distinct pattern: from the vastness of exploration (expansion) to the refining process of elimination (contraction), finally leading to mastery or focus (concentration).
1. Expansion: The World is Your Oyster
Discovering the Boundless Horizon
It often starts with a feeling of being lost or at a crossroad. Maybe it’s after college, a job loss, or even a personal upheaval. The uncertainty may feel overwhelming, but it can also be the beginning of something beautiful: a phase of expansion.
In this phase:
- Curiosity is the driving force. We begin to explore different paths, learn about various fields, and say “yes” to a plethora of opportunities.
- Mistakes are not just expected; they’re embraced. They are the stepping stones to finding what truly resonates with us.
- There’s a certain freedom in not being tethered to any one direction. It’s about breadth, not depth.
2. Contraction: Refining the Path
Shaping the Clay
Once we’ve explored the vast horizons, some paths begin to stand out more than others. Here lies the next phase: contraction.
In this phase:
- We start discerning what aligns with our passion, values, and strengths. It’s not about saying “yes” to everything, but about choosing what matters.
- By trimming away the unnecessary, we become more aligned with our authentic selves. It’s a process of elimination where we start to recognize what doesn’t serve our larger purpose.
- This phase might be accompanied by tough decisions, like leaving a stable job that’s not fulfilling or distancing from projects that drain energy.
3. Concentration: Deep Dive into Mastery
Becoming the Maestro
From the vast canvas of options, now we have a clearer picture, a concentrated focus. This is the phase of concentration.
In this phase:
- We immerse ourselves deeply, sometimes in just one or two areas of interest.
- It’s where expertise is born. With dedicated effort and time, we aim to master our chosen field or craft.
- There’s joy in depth, in knowing something intimately, and in being recognized for that expertise.
So, how does this play out in different areas of life:
- Expansion: When we first embark on our educational journey, we are exposed to a wide range of subjects and disciplines. From mathematics to literature, from history to science, we expand our knowledge and explore different fields.
- Contraction: As we mature, we realize we cannot master all subjects. We start to narrow our choices, diving deeper into areas that align with our passions and strengths.
- Concentration: Once we’ve identified our niche or specialization, we enter a concentrated stage, honing our skills and knowledge in a particular domain.
Relationships & Dating:
- Expansion: In our youth or after a breakup, we might date a variety of people, seeking what we desire in a partner.
- Contraction: With time, we recognize essential qualities in a relationship and shed those that don’t serve our emotional well-being.
- Concentration: For many, this leads to committing to one person, focusing emotional energy and depth in the relationship.
Hobbies & Personal Interests:
- Expansion: We try our hands at various activities, from painting to running, to see where our passions lie.
- Contraction: As we understand ourselves better, certain hobbies resonate more, and we begin to focus our energies there.
- Concentration: This is the phase of mastery, where we dedicate time and effort to perfect our chosen interest.
Self-Identity & Personal Growth:
- Expansion: Key moments in life might have us exploring different ideologies or philosophies, trying to find our fit.
- Contraction: As we grow and accumulate experiences, we shed beliefs and habits that no longer resonate.
- Concentration: This phase is about embracing our true self, focusing on growth within that authentic framework.
Conclusion: I wanted Gabe to see life as an ever-evolving dance of expanding horizons, refining paths, and diving deep into our chosen arenas. These cycles aren’t linear; they can and often do repeat. After achieving mastery in one area, the urge to explore new terrains may resurface. That’s the beauty of our journey — it’s dynamic, full of growth, and never truly stagnant. Whether you’re in the phase of exploring the limitless sky, refining your path among the stars, or shining as a bright constellation, remember: each phase is an essential step in the dance of life.