What is the length of your cycle? Ever given it a thought?
You realize that life goes in clearly-marked natural cycles, right? Recurring patterns of learning that come around time and time again over a number of years, repeatedly bringing the same issues back into focus until we resolve them. Once we have (but especially if we haven’t) a new cycle revs up and we begin the process all over again, this time with a new round of lessons. It’s all very organic and natural, and clever in the way only a universe or divine intelligence of some kind can be.
Apparently, life cycles last either seven years, ten years, or twelve. Mine’s twelve.
It doesn’t take long to figure out what yours is. Simply look back at all the major turning points in your life – when tragedies happened, or big-time mistakes, or catastrophes, or major moves of location – and try working out if there’s a common time-span between each cluster of them. Once you have that, you’re suddenly equipped with a broad and highly useful perspective on the rhythms and flows of your world, enabling you to remain grounded and philosophical during the highs, and less stressed or traumatized by the lows. In other words, whatever happens, good or bad, you treat it simply as another step in your cycle, and therefore temporary, and keep on barreling through. Remember, change is the only constant.
I had a friend in college called Barney. Brilliant kid. A musician and composer. Killed himself at age 21. Wasn’t able to see his way to the end of a very dark tunnel, I guess, and quit. If only I could have told him that he was just at the end of one of these damned cycles and a new, brighter period of learning was right around the corner. But I didn’t get to him in time.
In the approach to the end of a cycle, things tend to fall apart in one or more areas of your life. It can get horribly hairy for a while. And sometimes this seems to happen with almost no input from you. You were doing fine, happy as a lamb, then the floor you’d been standing on simply crumbles beneath your feet. The trick is to accept it as pragmatically as possible, and not freak out at the changes going on around you. Which I know is easier said than done, but it’s not a personal thing. The universe isn’t out to get you. Your life is not in ruins, despite appearances. It’s just a cycle. You’re winding down, that’s all. The last phase is on the way out, a new one’s not far away. You will rise again.
It’s at the end of a cycle, for instance, that divorces happen, or deaths decimate a family, or kids leave home and go to college, or we get fired from our jobs, or are simply imbued with a profound urge one day to move on and try something new. Or several of these things all mixed together. One example: in 1996-1997, I lost my job, my money, my home, my relationship, and my family in the space of six months. That was one traumatic bloody end of cycle, I can tell you. In hindsight, I’m surprised I didn’t do a Barney, I was so depressed. Soon afterwards, though, everything changed for the better. I upped sticks and moved to the States and, revitalized, began my American broadcasting cycle.
The end of a cycle isn’t instant; it sort of dribbles into your consciousness over quite a while, even a couple of years, as a blurry accumulation of events slowly build one upon the other. But once it happens there’s no going back. Grab your things, it’s time to reboot. From here, starting a little shakily at first, life gains pace, opportunities come and expand, you find yourself more settled, and it may continue that way for several years, until eventually at some unspecified point you reach a peak, usually mid-cycle. Then, before you know it, just as you’re enjoying what you have and things seem to be going swimmingly, uh-oh, there’s a glitch, and they begin to wind down once more, ready to fall apart, same as last time. It’s just like the seasons or the waxing and waning of the moon.
Endings bring misery and self-analysis. You can’t move on to the next thing without asking yourself some important questions. “What lesson was that cycle trying to teach me? Where did I screw up? What do I need to correct? And what do I take away from this last cycle that I won’t repeat in the new one?”
It’s similar to a video game. Solve the puzzle, overcome obstacles, learn the lesson at one level, and you move up to the next. Fail to learn, and you go around again. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s entirely your choice.
So why am I mentioning this?
Because I’m going through this now. I’m slowly coming to the end of the American broadcasting cycle I mentioned earlier. It’s been winding down for about three years, but the cycle itself has lasted twelve. I started contributing to Marketplace, the national business show on public radio in the States, in 1998. Twelve years before that, my career in radio began in London, after I left my desk job to go freelance. Always twelve years, see?
Joining Marketplace provided me with some astonishing opportunities. It led me to becoming a travel reporter. That in turn led to me writing travel books. Because of the travel books I was given my own TV show, which took me to, and over, the peak of the cycle. Then everything kinda dipped. In 2006, I returned to doing commentaries for Marketplace. But that was a big mistake. After the amazing expansiveness of producing TV, I found the idea of putting together four-minute pieces for the radio a little restricting. Like giving up driving a locomotive and going back to playing with toy trains. There were times when the boredom was excruciating, and it began to show in my work. I lost my edge, my mojo, my oomph.
For several months I was worried. Nobody, but nobody, likes to feel their oomph slipping away. Now I realize, it’s just another twelve-year cycle bidding adieu. I’m transitioning out of broadcasting, out of a situation where I sit around talking about what other people are doing, and into a new phase where I actually do stuff myself. That’s a big change.
I have a lot more to say about working at Marketplace, which I’ll post after I finally leave. It has been such a wonderful place to be, rubbing shoulders with so many bright, intelligent people. Even so, you gotta know when to leave the stage, and it’s with enormous relief that I’m going to be doing just that. A brand new cycle of activity began some time ago, and I can see it involves switching tack entirely, being a little entrepreneurial and more adventurous, and plotting a course unlike anything I’ve done before. I completed my first-ever serious book recently, about health and healing; I have a novel coming out in November which is really innovative and fun, and I’m midway through shooting a documentary. It all adds up to “beyond exciting.”
Over the years, so many fans have written to me saying how much they loved my Marketplace pieces and the pleasure they got from them. That was thrilling. I even enjoyed hearing from people who hated them and wrote stinky emails to say so. They, more than anyone, taught me the big lessons and helped me write better stuff. In the end, though, it was all good, and I leave it behind me with a tinge of sadness, of course, but also appreciation and a sense of real gratification. Trust me, I sucked that marrow dry, kids, and I’m poised and ready for a new marrow. (You understand, when I say marrow, I mean challenge, right?)
TV Swami, he become Radio Swami this week, and have interesting things to say about public radio.