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Crossroad Ghost Ship Sails Away

My son was a freshman at Indiana University studying to get a degree in music. Halfway through his freshman year, he announced that he wants to quit school and join a band. He was at a major crossroad.  He quit college and the ghost ship with the college diploma sailed away.

When my son announced that he wanted to quit college, I was petrified about his decision. As a parent, we have these ideas and visions for our children’s future. Most of all, we want them to be safe and secure. With my wisdom that I gained through the years, I knew that becoming a musician was a difficult road. He definitely needs a plan B; a college degree is a great plan B.

A good friend told me, “With a plan B, he will never make it to plan A.” My son is now a full time professional musician and loves his job. He is so fulfilled with his choice to become a musician.

When my parents had their 50th wedding anniversary, my son sang and serenaded his grandparents with the song, “100 Years” by Five For Fighting. He emotionally moved the whole room with his musical talents. Do I enjoy listening to his musical talents? Hell Yes!  Do I admire his courage in going after his passion ? Hell Yes!

Crossroads and the Future Self

A client of mine shared with me that she is at a crossroad of deciding whether or not to have a baby.  She is trying to decide if she wants a child because she really wants a child, or is she thinking about having a child because she is afraid that she will regret not having one later? The time for a deferment is coming to a close and she needs to step up and figure it out.

There’s a movie that I think of every time I consider questions such as this about the irrevocable choices we make. The movie is Big with Tom Hanks.  My favorite scene is where Tom Hanks (Josh) is standing in the street near his home. When he looks at his home from this vantage point, he observes that it’s as if he’d just died and he was now “seeing the home from a new angle.” It’s a wonderful image of the view of his childhood from an adult’s perspective. He could now appreciate his childhood so much more from this angle. He makes a choice to go back and be that child again. He no longer wanted to be “Big.”

Thomas Transtromer in his poem, “The Blue House.” writes, “Every life has a sister ship,” one that follows “quite another route” than the one we ended up taking. We want it to be otherwise, but it cannot be: the people we might have been live a different, phantom life than the people we are.

No Clarity Only Choice

When we are at a crossroads, we desire clarity about which course to take, but perhaps we should let that go. Instead, take a figurative step into the street as Josh (Tom Hanks) did in the movie Big and simply gaze for awhile at your home. I think if you did, you’d see what I see: there there will likely be no clarity, at least at the outset. There will only be the choice you make and the sure knowledge that either one will contain some loss.

We expect to have a feeling about that decision that will never come. It’s simply making a choice. My client said that she doesn’t want to make a choice to become a parent simply because she is afraid she “will regret not having one later,” but I encouraged her to reexamine that. Thinking deeply about her choices and actions from the stance of her future self can serve as both a motivational and corrective force. It can help her stay true to who she really is as well as inspire her to leverage her desires against her fears.

Not regretting it later is the reason I have done at least 3/4 of the best things in my life. It’s the reason I got pregnant. You may be content with your current childless life, attempting to determine what you might regret later strikes me as the best way for you to meaningfully explore if having a child or a new career is important to you. So much so, that I suspect that whether you’ll regret it later is the only question you must answer. It is the very one that will tell you what to do.

You already know the answers to everything else. You know you’re open to becoming a parent or a new career. You know you’ve gotten pleasure and satisfaction from the freedom an independence a child-free life allows or the joys of your day to day job.

Decisions – Look to the Future

What don’t you know? Make a list. Write down everything you don’t know about your future life-which is everything. Use your imagination. What are the thoughts and images that come to mind when you picture yourself at twice the age you are now? What springs forth if you imagine the eighty-two-year-old self who opted to “keep enjoying the same life” and what when you picture the eight-two-year-old self with a thirty-nine-year-old son or daughter? Or, and new career choice? Write down “same life” and “new career or son or daughter” and underneath each make another list of the things you think those experiences would give to and take from you and then ponder which entries on your list might cancel each other out.

What is a good life? Write “good life” and list everything that you associate with a good life, then rank that list in order of importance. Have the most meaningful things in your life come to you as a result of ease or struggle? What scares you about sacrifice? What scares you about not sacrificing?

One is the life you’ll have; the other is the one you won’t. Switch them around in your head and see how it feels. Which affects you on a visceral level? Which won’t let you go? Which is ruled by fear? Which is ruled by desire? Which makes you want to close your eyes and jump and which makes you want to turn and run?

Ghost Ship Sails Away

In spite of my fears, I didn’t regret having a baby. My son’s body against mine was the clarity I never had. I was rattled by how close I’d come to opting to live my life without him. It was a penetrating, relentless, unalterable thing to be his mother, my life ending and beginning at once.

If I could go back in time I’d make the same choice in a snap. And yet, there remains my sister life.  All the other things I could have done instead. I wouldn’t know what I couldn’t know until I became a mom, and so I’m certain there are things I don’t know because I can’t know because I did.  What didn’t I accomplish because I was catching my children at the bottoms of slides? Would I be happier and more intelligent and prettier if I had been free all this time?

I’ll never know, and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.

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