You know what sometimes makes me a little sad?
If you ride SEPTA you know the strangely accented woman who voices the stops on the Broad Street line. A couple years ago I became hyper aware of the particular announcement she gives just before the metal entryway slides shut and the car starts to pull ahead:
Think vaguely Indian mixed with British, every time just as you are about to move on:
I don’t know why, but I always have this tiny existential sadness slip into my heart when I hear that.
Now when I make a big choice, one that feels like it’s going to determine the course of life for the next month, year or beyond, I think of that announcement. When I hit a major milestone I hear it too. Sometimes, I’m just sitting there thinking and I realize that at one point I thought I wanted to be a doctor and now I teach actors to fake illness for them instead. I think about whether I could, if I had the inclination, turn it all around and still go after that medical degree. And I think, maybe I could, but I probably won’t.
That announcement rings in my ears often, reminding me that I’m about to do (or already have done) something that will dedicate myself to one path instead of another. It’s a wistful thing, but not an outright depressing one. This is the price we pay for depth of experience, this loss of the breadth, yes? But it’s still a pinprick of wondering what might have been, if I’ve made those other choices.
Too often, I think we see ourselves in this direction, from beginning to end, thinking only of change as a series of losses we incur. Too little are we able to imagine ourselves in reverse, looking back at the slow gathering and gaining of life. Would we do things differently if we knew better which path we want to be on, which doors we should be perfectly happy to let swing shut as we speed on by to our goals? This is for our careers, our artistic lives, but of course our artistic lives are inextricably entwined with our larger selves as well. They don’t all move ahead in step but shift forward and back in tandem creating the momentum for the overall direction we take.
“Doors closing” is sad because it reminds me I don’t have forever and I’m the one to make the best of the time I still have left.
Here’s a project for today: write your own eulogy. Take 20 minutes to imagine the kinds things people will say about you when you’re gone.
And don’t just write what you think might be possible based on where you are now. Write the fantastical “you” that you want to wish into being. Write about the art you want people to say you made. Write about the family you want to have been surrounded with. Write about the places you know you want to have seen, the people you want to have met. Write about your work in a way that makes you think proudly, feel flamboyant and believe in a future unchained by any expectations other than your own.
And then when you’re done, type it out and save it somewhere safe.
This is your map.
Let it rest for a few days or a week or even a month and when you’re ready take it out. And start to think about the distance between here and there. Plot your course. Do it concretely. Give yourself an estimate of time and fuel and direction and cost. Think about which doors you need to walk through and which ones you might even need to pry back open. Think about detours and tolls along the way that might pull you from the straightest path.
Know that you can always still get there, you just might have to be craftier.
Then think about all the routes you’re wasting energy on holding onto.
And if you don’t need them, let those doors close.
PS – Full disclosure: I’m stealing this from Creative Capital’s wonderful strategic planning workbook. But I think they won’t mind. And I hope you’ll enjoy.