Hello, Destiny - Farewell, Everything Else
“You're just jealous of me because I'm a tap-dancing ballerina fairy princess veterinarian!”
So goes the old adage by Carmelita Spats, one of the recurring villains of ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’. Of all the things I feel I have in common with Carmelita, the inability to decide on what I want to be when I grow up is one of them.
The problem is that now I’m at the age you’re grown up at - 35 is pretty much grown up. (I know that there’s a few people who will read this and say, ‘Pshaw. You’re just a child!’ But to them I say - you have been singing that same song to me since you yourselves were 35. At which point you would have told me you were a grown up. So let me have this one.) In a year I’ll be geriatric, according to my gynecologist.
So I’ve pretty much missed the boat on adulting in the required amount of time.
I was chatting to my version of Gandalf (I call him Dandalf) about struggling to maintain focus and joy in my creative work, and he had me think about who my ideal self is.
“We don’t like the feeling of cognitive dissonance”, he explained, “And so if we’re not living in line with who we see ourselves as, we experience it as discomfort.”
That’s right. Our brains get queasy when our lives are out of line.
So I had to think about who I ideally see myself as, and the longer I think about that, the more that I realize I have a problem. I see myself as many different things, and some of them conflict with each other. I want to be several of my heroes all at once - my mom, my nature-loving aunt, a strong, empowered female friend of mine whom I’ve always respected.
The problem is - they’re all really different people. They’re all living incredibly different lives. And not one of them does music for a living, which explains why I always have a lingering feeling of getting away with something I shouldn’t be getting away with.
Also, as I explained to my husband, I’ve read a million and one books since I was born, and I’ve found ideal selves in most every story I’ve ever written. I have a… frankenlife that I’m trying to live up to. And I’ve also decided subconsciously that I can’t experience contentment until I am living this frankenlife every day.
Which means I’m going to spend my entire life running from one house to another, like a polygamist and his many sister wives and no scheduling software.
At this point, a quote I once read came to mind - a quote about needing to grieve the many lives we’ll never be able to live. To choose one thing means choosing against many other things - it is impossible for us to (safely) walk on two sidewalks at the same time. Our imagination is limitless, but our power to realize everything we can dream up is ultimately limited.
Thus, I have to say goodbye to my dreams of being a career spy/motorcyclist/salsa dancer/yoga teacher and settle for being a musician that loves science and ponders theology and illustrates coffee cups. The thing is, even within this more limited scope, there is an abundant lifetime’s worth of bunny trails to go down. One tool does not a toolbox make, but it can still be an imminently useful, life-giving entity in our world of never ending scenarios that needs fixing.
I can’t go on every adventure out there, but not every adventure was written for me, either. And adventures often command our complete, undivided attention - when I can gift that, I reap the benefits immediately.
So how do I choose? How do I decide which adventure is for me? Am I the only one who read those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books with fingers stuck in all the different endings?
I once saw a TED talk, titled ‘Making Difficult Choices’, given by Ruth Chang in 2014. In it, she expertly sums up the problem - some choices aren’t inherently better than their counterparts, which can make it agonizingly difficult to figure out which road to go down. The thing is, these hard choices offer us the opportunity to stand behind them with our very selves, and create our own reasons for the decisions we make. They are an opportunity to write our own lives and identities, to respond in kind with the ideal persona we have in mind, to chiropractically correct the spine running center front down the books of our lives.
So. It may not be for me to know today whether I will die a ballerina or a pirate, but I am inspired to refocus and blaze a trail for my own story. May we all be so strengthened to let our yes be yes and our no,no - for real reasons.