The importance of plotting our trajectories

Art by Sean Eidder

Over the course of my life I’ve noticed that for certain periods of time, I’ll cling to a certain word in order to make sense of things. From 2011 to 2012, it was “critical.” In 2013, it was “perpetuate.” Late 2014 until today, the word has been “trajectory,” which is defined as the pathway an object follows in relation to the forces influencing it. You throw a ball, and try to visualize in dotted lines the shape of the arch its movement creates. That is trajectory. Imagine a boardroom filled with businessmen, and on the screen in the boardroom is a PowerPoint slide with a line graph on it, the line vaguely resembling an uneven row of sharp teeth. This line is supposed to explain profits and losses. That is also trajectory.

Every new year, before resolutions are even considered, you first reevaluate your trajectory, the path and pattern left in the wake of your choices. I’ve used the word “trajectory” a lot because the intricacies of living somehow become easier to digest when distilled into an image like a line graph. The line climbs, dips and plateaus in correspondence to various events with variable degrees of internal and external impact.

There’s a silliness to that sort of thinking, I guess. You plot out the year you just lived on a sheet of imaginary graph paper and come to conclusions that sound a lot like, “I need to get on the treadmill more” or “Save money!” or “I’ve made a terrible habit of keeping grudges.”

But you look at the dips the most. You look at the dips because the general logic is that in those dips, in those crevices and sinkholes, you might be able to find a fundamental flaw in yourself that, once properly evaluated, might unlock the door to a new set of resolutions — ones that will be properly followed through with this year: This year for sure, I swear to God.

It’s weird. It’s an imaginary line — a line that, to you, can somehow objectively measure achievement — that compels you to do something as trivial as implementing a fitness policy in your mental notes or as significant as recalibrating a comfortable belief system.

But you make resolutions anyway. You make resolutions because you want that line, the trajectory of your life, to look nice. You want the line to look like a sharp steep climb instead of the crooked beeping line on the screen of a heart rate monitor hooked to someone not-quite-well-but-not-quite-dying-either.

This isn’t to say that we do the things we do in pure service of a mental image. We make the decisions we make for various subjective reasons, whether they fall under the category of self-benefit, altruism, masochism, or whatever else falls between those things. But the mental image is still there, and we keep it there, because it’s one thing to evaluate a singular decision and another thing entirely to gather up all your choices into one long queue of dominoes and figure out how they collapse.

I guess it’s for this reason that January seems lke an especially important month. This is your first chance of the year to push that line up, and if you do manage to push that line up, that kind of sets the tone for the rest of the year — you ride that momentum, and your trajectory (and if it hasn’t been made clear, you are the object in motion stubbornly believing that its choices are the primary governors of its fate) climbs, and climbs some more, to some vague peak that you’re not sure exists. But then again it’s better than not believing.

January is the comeback month. January is a red carpet lined with velvet ropes and flashing cameras. January is where you will demonstrate that, much to the chagrin of your haters, you are more than what they perceive you to be. You are on the way to getting fit, getting smart, getting stable, et cetera. (Personally, I’m going down that carpet to show my friends I didn’t get fat over the Christmas break; but I digress.)

The thing is, your life isn’t always made of sharp, steep climbs. Sometimes it’s made of little ascensions, tiny shifts you make every day that go unnoticed because you put all your focus on being fantastic. Sometimes the dips are where you find yourself. Don’t worry about not being fantastic. Don’t worry about the dips. Be thankful that the line exists. Be thankful that you can always come back to where you fell from. And be thankful that gravity doesn’t apply to your identity. Your trajectory has no ceiling.

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