Still Figuring It Out

A colleague in my office sent me this cartoon from the great Pictures in Boxes cartoon blog.

“Neat,” I thought somewhat dismissively, “a clever cubing cartoon.” But the more I focused on it, the more I came to appreciate the message and title (Still Figuring It Out).

I’m not sure if the author/artist intended it as a literal cubing reference or not, but I personally really appreciate the dual literal and metaphorical meaning.

As it pertains to cubing, it couldn’t be more accurate. I vividly remember sitting in front of Rob’s tutorial video mystified that anyone could actually solve a cube and blown away by the folks in the related videos thumbnails. 20-second solves. 10-second solves. Feliks’ 5.66 second solve. Utterly mind-blowing. Like stumbling upon a winged elephant, solving a cube was a concept I just couldn’t wrap my mind around.

Now, of course, I can solve a cube on auto-pilot, almost subconsciously. What I once perceived as utter scattered chaos in a scrambled cube, now seems like a totally ordered and structured set of micro-tasks — a sort of punchlist of discrete and simple next-steps. What once intimidated and overwhelmed me now seems hilariously simple. In that simplicity, I no doubt have uncovered other layers of depth. No longer satisfied with just solving — a pedestrian endeavor at this point — I now can problematize things, dig deeper, focus on new approaches and strategies, identify new efficiencies, and cultivate deeper understandings. The cross became advanced cross, which led to futile attempts to learn x-crosses. F2L became rotationless F2L, which became a (short-lived) flirt with Roux. Two-look OLL became one-look, which then dovetailed into partial edge control through advanced F2L. Etc.

I figured it out; I’m figuring it out still.

And in that way, isn’t the cube just the perfect metaphor for life? For work? For raising kids? I frankly can’t think of one major life transition onto which this trope does not map. From the outside, each new challenge and experience seems confusing and overwhelming. But with diligence and experience, that chaos becomes ordered and manageable. And then it suddenly becomes old hat, a mix of habit and subconscious processes. That’s true of purely mechanical skills like walking or riding a bike or typing or driving stick-shift. But it’s equally — if not more — true of phases in our lives. The first day of high school, of college, of law school, of my jobs, of parenthood each struck me as deeply vexing and overwhelming and almost non-nonsensical. But over just short periods of time, each became comfortable and manageable. As they became easier and less frightening, they became more fun, more satisfying, and more interesting. Deeper levels of understanding and appreciation (and new challenges) emerged.

At the risk of sounding corny and self-helpy (gasp!?!), I think the cartoon (and my personal experience with the cube) is a good parable for new challenges and change. However steep that hill seems from below, and however uncertain we are that we can climb it, once summited that conclusion always retrospectively strikes us a given.

What a great cartoon, with its true depth masked by its charm and simplicity....

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