I used to be someone who made decisions with ease. I knew what I wanted, what I didn’t care for, how I hoped things would end up. For the longest time, I was so certain. Or, at least I thought I was. Then college happened, throwing a wrench in my detailed plans.
Did I really want to be a journalist? (No.) A magazine editor? (No.) A writer, even? Was I cut out for that?
To be honest, I still don’t know. But I write anyway, because it keeps me moving forward.
I read a blog post yesterday that deeply resonated with me. In it, the writer (whom I very much admire—go read her stuff!), quoted the following passage from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and it summed up my feelings so perfectly that I’d be remiss not to share:
I saw my life branching out before me… From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet, and another fig was a brilliant professor… and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions… and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
I believe that our lives are more like our favorite television shows than we think, in that each phase marks a new “season” in our overarching life story. This particular season of The Emily Show is somewhat directionless, mainly because I’m having trouble narrowing it down to one damn fig. At least, one of the career variety (which, from where I stand, appears to be growing on the obscurest of branches). In an ideal world, I’d pick the meaningful job that has me contributing more to society than just words on a screen. And that comes with a decent paycheck. (Making money is important, too.)
But what happens when you settle on the realization that your true passion—in my case, writing—is less a viable career option than it is a worthy hobby? And where do you turn when you figure out that you want both the practical job and the noble pastime? Do you try to pick back up from where you left off, or do you start from square one?
Even though I’m older, I don’t feel quite as crunched for time as I used to when ironing out my future and deciding what to do for a living. I have that on my side, and yet, I’m paralyzed by the possibilities before me. (Both a blessing and a curse.)
Should I go back to school? Learn a trade? Become a part-time yoga instructor?
(These are just some of the thoughts that play through my head on repeat.) And so I wait for a sign to determine which one makes the most sense. But sometimes, simply waiting for a door to open is the same as asking to be blindly pushed in any which way—and then hoping it all works out. A lesson in faith, perhaps, or just an unwillingness to choose for yourself.
Indecision is a lot like a roadmap to nowhere. Life inevitably continues on, dragging you along with it, until you wake up one morning and realize your list of accomplishments is shorter than you’d hoped they’d be by now. But you find that, unlike the fresh-out-of-college phase, your own expectations of yourself far outweigh the expectations of the people looking in. A good, if not terrifying, sign of growing older.
Tomorrow, I leave for Haiti on a mission trip. (Traveling somehow always puts things into perspective when clarity eludes me.) It was a split decision on my part, but one that I’m proud of.
Because while uncertainty will almost always be waiting for me back home, it’s more the inaction—the unwillingness to choose—that keeps me up at night. But a choice, no matter how small or temporary, is still a choice. Propelling me towards a specific direction, step by step by step.