In the last 30 years there has been a spike in books, conferences, and talking heads on the theme of creativity. You know the book covers. They incorporate neon colors and use made up words like IMAGINEERING and ARTAMAGICIAN and CREATIVATORIUM. In many of these books you will find two words that most say are crucial to all creative projects. The words are “divergence” and “convergence.” I am coming to see that these words are also crucial for living out our true vocations.
Divergence is considering new possibilities through exploration and wonder. It is brainstorming, asking new questions, and elaborating what already exists. Divergence is considering anything. Divergence is getting high and wide. Convergence, on the other hand, is sorting the options. Convergence is developing, enriching, and finalizing your ideas. Convergence is moving from anything to something.
The aforementioned INNOVATILUTIONARY authors all agree that you cannot get to convergence without divergence. They agree that you cannot arrive at something without going through anything.
6 years ago I made a crayon drawing of what I thought was THE something. Sitting at a Macaroni Grill in Los Angeles with two of my dear friends we cleared out the plates, dodged the olive oil puddles, and sketched a plan for starting a faith community in San Francisco. In the following years while my friend’s “somethings” changed slightly, I continued to feel like my something was to start a church in San Francisco. Perhaps you have your own crayon sketch of something — five year plan, career track, or city to move to.
Fast forward to last October. I am a pastor in San Francisco. I had arrived at my something. I was happy. Yet I (and those that helped me discern) felt it time to for me to move into a season of anything. I resigned.
Since leaving my position as a pastor, I have had sleepless nights and a perma-raised heart rate as I look for my new something (I have written about this more than Michael Pollan writes about food). I have been impatient, hasty, and anxious. I have tried developing, finalizing, and defending possibilities that were not ready for it. What I have come to see if that I have given little time to diverging. I have not picked up the crayon and returned to the proverbial drawing board (or tablecloth in this case).
We spend most of our lives fearful of not finding something but too scared to try anything. It’s why we love maps and no longer know how to use a compass. We would much rather know the route (or 3. thanks Steve Jobs!) to our destination than wander in a North Easterly direction. Like a wanderer without a map, life’s exploration involves getting lost, finding dead ends, and starting over again. Few of us chose this method to arrive at our next destination. To diverge is a risk that few are willing to take yet we long for the convergence that follows.
Then as a result we often confuse which part of the process we are in. When you tell yourself that you are doing something (convergence) when really you are doing anything (divergence), you try too hard, over extend yourself, and turn into a sales person. This results in lots of “big talk” and making inflated promises in an effort to get people (and your subconscious self) on board with your plan.
If you have already arrived at something but have never tried anything, chances are you that you are living someone else’s story (likely your parents’), have lost your internal locus of control (likely because of trauma or betrayal) or perhaps you are lucky and God has given you your perfect something. If you are the lucky one you should know that most people want to give you the finger. Regardless, it is important to recognize the time for and necessity of both divergence and convergence.
I recently sat down with the Bishop of California. He said that making good decisions (career one’s specifically) is to learn how to navigate the paradox of patience in the midst of crisis. It’s trusting that the scary unknowns of divergence at some point converge to give life to a new something.
I am learning to give good time to both divergence and convergence but this is difficult when we need a paycheck, really want to leave our job, or don’t know which business idea to run with. We want the security of something without the exploration of anything. But it is as the Bishop said, the goal is not to rush to a new something but to gain a deeper understanding of the paradox — of my gifts and limits, my true and false self, and my superficial hopes and deeper desires. Only in accepting this paradox of both divergence and convergence can we work and live more gracefully, within the whole of our being.