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gradually… then suddenly

June 24, 2016

Several years ago I was part of a workshop where the idea of “gradually then suddenly” was introduced.  The quote from this workshop/book author is: “Our work, our relationships, and, in fact, our very lives succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly, one conversation at a time.”  Basically the idea is that most of the time what we experience as “sudden” is the result of days, weeks, months or even years of something that really happened gradually.  We find ourselves waking up one morning wondering “how did I get here?” or “is this my life?”.

I’ve tended to think of this gradually then suddenly in terms of negative things.  (Note the original concept can be traced to a quote in Ernest Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises referring to bankruptcy) I thought about it in terms of problems that slowly grow, or other things that slowly go bad, or as mentioned already realizing that your life isn’t what you hoped it would be.  The idea I compare it to is the frog in boiling water thing, that says if you throw a frog into boiling water, it will jump out; but if you slowing increase the temperature of the water it will just stay and slowly boil to death.

However, over the past several months ‘gradually then suddenly’ has worked in the opposite direction in my life.  I, consistently on a day-to-day basis, feel happier and less stressed than I have in a long time.  Getting here didn’t happen overnight, just like becoming less happy and more stressed didn’t happen overnight either.  In many cases, we don’t even realize how bad things have gotten, as like the frog we slowly adapt to our environment and realities.  The impact of each day isn’t enough to make us think we need to “jump out” or make a change.  The opposite can also happen, we are often are slow to realize when things are getting better and so can sometimes fail to explore when that change began and identify the true source of the positive change.  In both situations, it is the cumulative effect of our environment that matters, the way things build up, either positively or negatively, over time.

“Gradually then suddenly” works both ways.  Just like the original reference (in quotes above) says, our lives and work and relationships fail AND succeed gradually then suddenly.  We all have the power to in our work and relationships and life to change the trajectory, to take an action so that the gradually then suddenly is moving toward the positive.  From personal experience I encourage you to do this where necessary, as we all deserve to be in a place where we can say “I’m happy!  I love my life!”.



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