The Asymptote

By Al-ameen Abolare. Al-Ameen is an aspiring Software Developer. He lives in Lagos State, Nigeria. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Can you examine your life through retrospect or introspect, and tell yourself: ‘’I am doing my best’’?
I bet you can’t; because if you can, you’re only kidding yourself.

Your best is a moving, evolving, changing scale. Your best is not a constant point where you can reach and declare yourself ‘winner’. The only thing constant about your best, is change – it is constantly changing.

Whether or not you notice, you are not the same person you were yesterday. We’re constantly growing new cells, some cells are dying, and some are developing; your nails are growing; and so is your hair. We are constantly, I reiterate, changing. As these changes occur, they generally affect who we are – our potentials, our capabilities, our inner strength. For this reason, we cannot say, certainly, that ‘‘this is the best I can give.’’

Hence, self-mastery – knowing exactly what one is and becoming fully aware of one’s potentials and also making full use of them – it turns out, is an asymptote. In Mathematics, an asymptote is a straight line that a curve approaches but never reaches. In other words, knowing exactly what one is, practically, is impossible. Due to our constantly changing nature, what we are capable of fluctuates in different situations.

Hence, we can only reach for mastery, we can’t fully attain it; and that’s what we need to appreciate. Is your curve (your efforts) still approaching that asymptote (mastery) or it’s moving in another direction? A question we need to ask everyday. Our efforts should be directed, to building that new you that you would become tomorrow; to nurturing the skills to meet the criteria required by the new you that you weren’t in the beginning.

The new you may be a software developer, an impact coach, a psychologist, an engineer, a teacher, a mentor or something else you dream to be (which you aren’t at present). You need to realize that that ‘’you’’ is only reachable if your efforts today are congruent with the end goal, i.e. if your curve approaches the asymptote.

The asymptote gives us a unique view to growth and development. It paints the picture that: you can always dream big, you can always do more, you can always be better, you can always sharpen your skills, you can always improve, you can always find a way to get a better result, you can always create a new and better version of you, and the fact that you’re not constricted to a particular circumstance. It also provides for optimum satisfaction and fulfilment in life. True happiness is derived from sincere and fulfilling efforts, not a sense of perfection (which is impossible, anyway).

As we go through life, we are often marveled by certain things that we can now do. These same things, many years back, were impossible for us to do. I can write comfortably today, when in fact there was a time when I couldn’t even hold a pen – that’s a new me. I can run as fast as I wish today, when in fact there was a time I couldn’t move from a spot – that’s a new me. I can read and study for as long as I want, when in fact there was a time that I thought it was impossible – that’s a new me. I can give advice to people on the verge of self destruction today, when in fact I was once facing the same ordeal – that’s a new me. And as we identify and appreciate the new us, life and work become interesting and fun.

The asymptote analogy also highlights the importance of marginal efforts – that little more you can do to make things better. It depicts that you can work an hour longer, run a little faster, write another letter, try once more, practice a bit more, give another presentation, read it a bit more, use one more method, and do just one more push up. It helps us understand that perhaps, all that’s required to hit gold is just one more strike. Marginal efforts go a long way to bring that new you to reality. Come to think of it, the difference between 5 and 6 is just one, yet they are entirely different numbers with different implications. That’s the power of marginal effort – it brings you closer to that new you, closer to the asymptote.

I really don’t want to know exactly who I am. I want to be thrilled everyday as I discover a new me that never existed. I want to be motivated by discovering potentials and capabilities that I wouldn’t even believe existed in the first place. I want to be inspired by the novelty I see in myself everyday, even if it is nuance. Thinking and living in this sense reminds you that you haven’t even scratched the surface of what you are capable of.

A life well lived is a life where one constantly asks what am I going to do today that makes a difference? What am I going to do to make my next effort my best effort? What am I going to do to bring that new me to reality; and not one where one wakes up every morning with a self-deluding belief that ‘’I’m fully made” and that ‘’I’m doing the best I can.’’

The latter clouds develop and brings the fixed-mindset into play. The former, on the other hand, nurtures development and cultivates the growth-mindset required to live a fulfilled life. Understanding that one doesn’t have to know, totally, what one is, strengthens one to always look out for differences between who one is today and who one was yesterday; and if one is ever going to compete or compare, it will be between those two.

As we go through life with a mindset of constantly searching and working towards a new us that we can potentially become, our lives, interactions with others, and relationships with the society becomes filled with joy and a clear sense of purpose.

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