On (not) Choosing Paths

Yesterday I went to a high school reunion party (or so I’ll call it) at my friend’s house. Just about all of my good friends from those ever glorious high school days were there. It was great to see everyone and catch up with people and see how they’ve changed and grown and progressed. We collectively sighed with relief. Finals are over. Done with our first semester classes. It’s almost Christmas (well, I guess it’s Christmas Eve now). Good. Life is good. Now what.

Well, a month(+) to sit around and sleep and waste time and, at least for me, ponder the future. At the reunion party, I found that in every group of people that I talked to, someone (and occasionally I) inevitably wound up asking questions like, “what are your plans next semester,” or, “what are you going to do after college,” or “what are you going to be doing in a year/decade/tell me your plan for the rest of your life.”

Jeesh. These are big questions. They really are- don’t mistake my tone in the previous paragraph for a belief that these questions are unimportant or unnecessary or wrongly timed. Because that’s what’s scary- these are the questions that we should start to think about at this point. And by “start to think about,” I really mean that we’ve gotta make decisions, STAT. It’s a little bit incredible to me. I feel like this point in my life- where decisions actually matter and my most pressing daily dilemma is not what to get after track practice from the vending machine- has snuck up on me. BOO! OK now choose: Doctor? Lawyer? Congressman? Cog in the gearbox of a rigged capitalist system? An English professor or a neurosurgeon? Or a bum. On the streets. Because if you don’t become a doctor-lawyer-congresswoman-cog-in-gearbox-of…(etc), you’ve failed whatever silly expectations you impose on yourself (or are imposed on you).

Now I certainly don’t mean to lecture anyone about making decisions or on how to lead your life or to say, “you can be anything you want to be” or anything hokey like that. We have all been made conscious of expectations before- from ourselves, from our parents or friends, from our college counselors and high school teachers- all epitomized by the competitive world of academia. But I want to formally ask these questions of you, (my friends+fam), but also really anyone at any age and at any time, because these questions will be with us always after now. 

What are you good at? BRAG. Tell me what you’re skills are, what you are passionate about, what do you pride yourself in? (1)

What do you want to get good at? What skills do you want to develop? What can you do, learn, or think about that will help you to achieve whatever goals you’ve imposed on yourself?

What goals DO you impose on yourself?- or rather- what are your goals for the future? Separate your goals into time segments, or life sectors (ex. academics, occupation, romantic/sexlife/lackthereof/michaelchizazu).

Or “simply,” what do you want to do with your life? In your brief existence on Earth, what mark will you choose to make?

Sorry. Chill, chill. I know there are people on both sides of the rope- some of you saying “hey, I know perfectly fine what I’m doing with my life,” and then some of you saying “holy shit holy shit hoLy SHIT!” And both of you are perfectly justified in your reactions. We’re all at different points and have different perspectives on the issue. But the one thing that is now universal among us and our age cohort, I think, is that we must think about it. We cannot evade these questions, because by evading them, we implicitly answer them. Music time.

Freewill is a great song- Rush is the best of the 70’s and 80’s prog rock movement. But really I just love its chorus:

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill

“If you choose not to decide, you still had made a choice.” This truism, first highlighted for me by my father, is what I wanted to write about. Big questions must be asked and answered- now- because every day we move closer to one goal and farther from another. Are you cogent of what goals you’re approaching, and conversely, which goals you’re leaving behind? Are you sure that you’re advancing towards the “right” one, whatever that is? I am challenging each of you to question your faith in your alleged life plans; are you actively advancing yourself towards and away from the goals that you genuinely believe are correct or incorrect for your individual life?

Many of you are. Most of you are. But some of you are not. Life will not change by itself. It’s physics, dude. No object will move unless an outside force acts upon it. Ask yourself those questions, or at least read them out loud. Try to answer them out loud, too. Saying things makes them more real than just thinking things. After all, what are thoughts? After the fact, they don’t seem to really exist. I forget most of them anyways.

Here’s one last and important question, which I already kind of asked. But for emphasis,

What goals are you moving away from? Perhaps they are goals that you set at an early age or stage in your life, or maybe they are even now appearing to fade in importance as you continue through life. What doors have closed? What doors are closing against your wishes? What doors have you consciously closed?

Close doors. That is my advice to you, the proverbial royal reader. Close doors. Carefully, of course- don’t slam the door on the way out, don’t throw tantrums or spew crazy bullshit to family members, and don’t close a single door without making sure, with exquisite care, that you can justifiably do so. Some of what clouds our vision into our future is the stunning and overwhelming array of things that you can do in this world.

Don’t categorize yourself. Just choose the categories that you’re not going to be part of. It’s like the blacklist vs. the whitelist in Self Control (if you have a Mac and have ever had to do homework). Don’t limit yourself to all of a single category. Even those who say pre-med, pre-law, pre-biz (did I just make that up?)- I would say practice the same exercise as “the undecideds.” Pick out the things that you don’t what to become, but retain a list of the goals or aspirations that you aren’t currently acting on. Life is surprising and cyclical. Who knows what you’ll really end up doing.

Think about it. Really, think about it. Wake up from whatever stops you from controlling your fates and live deliberately.

Happy Holidays and best of luck in the New Year. Make some resolutions? Why the hell not.

(1) Post your brag anonymously below in the comments. Of course, all the fun will be in guessing who wrote what 😉

2 thoughts on “On (not) Choosing Paths

  1. I agree with closing doors. Looking for summer internships, my main goal is to figure out what I do NOT want to do. I think this is just as important, because then I won’t invest my energy in the wrong places.

    I also think 2 more things. (1) It is important to remain positive in all facets of life and in the workplace. If you are stuck in a bad situation, consider what you can do to improve your situation or what you can learn from the experience for the next opportunity. And (2) “When you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

    I am confident that if I do all I can, I will land in the job. Its an exciting thing to look forward too and I think it is human nature to yearn for something to hope for and look forward to.

    • Completely agree, especially with #2- obviously we’ll have to do some grunt work, but I’m so excited by what life might have to offer that the grunt work is absolutely and completely acceptable. Perhaps there are elements of #1 in that statement as well- a comment equally important and valuable. Thanks for the comment! (sorry for the tardy reply)

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