Do you ever notice that people tend to view life as a straight line?
I’m either moving forward or I stop. Either way, I’m making my way along a clear path.
Unfortunately, that’s not what life really is. Life is rarely a straight line, but rather a series of curves and turns and lots of steps to the side. (Or, in the words of one of our favorite artists, Stephanie Halligan, the path is always squiggly.)
Here’s why the idea of life being a straight line hurts us: When confronted with a fork in the road, we usually view a decision to do something as an action (moving forward) and the decision not to do something as inaction (stopping).
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Whether we’re deciding to move forward or not, we’re making a choice. And every choice is an action. Therefore, instead of viewing a decision not to do something as inaction, we’d be a lot better served realizing that deciding not to do something is an action in itself.
No matter what we decide, we’re always making a choice. And that choice has an impact on our path.
Learning the Hardest Lesson
When I first started dating my husband, he often said that if someone wants something, they’ll make it happen.
I hated when he said that.
“What about the circumstances?” I asked. “What about all the things that could be standing in someone’s way? Not everyone is born into the same opportunity, you know.”
While he agreed with this, he didn’t feel think circumstances always had to be a game changer. In his opinion, anyone who really wants something will break down the walls to make it happen. And if they don’t, that means they want something else more.
As the years went on, I started to understand this way of thinking.
I’m not someone who views the world in a cut and dried manner, but, as I evaluated my own life, I started to see a lot of truth in what my husband was saying. I wanted to move to New York, so I did. I wanted to move to San Francisco, so I did. I wanted to work in startups, so I did. Kali and I wanted to create Off The Rails, so we did.
I also wanted to be an actress, so I took classes – but I never went to auditions. Not going to auditions felt like inaction, but it was really a decision. I could study all I wanted, but I wasn’t doing anything to make that career a reality. Now, I can see that I wanted the financial stability of my full-time job more than I wanted an acting career.
The same is true of my move to New York. I always wanted to live in New York – but I didn’t make the move until I was 25 years old. For a long time, I stayed in my hometown because I believed it would be a good idea for me to acquire work experience there before moving away. What I was really doing was playing it safe.
Looking back, it’s easy to understand that I was prioritizing comfort and stability over my dreams. But if you would have asked me then, I would have told you I was simply preparing for my dreams. And I would have believed it.
Why am I mentioning all this? Because it’s an important lesson to learn in our creative journeys. It’s too easy to say we want things but that the obstacles are just too steep to overcome.
“It’s practically impossible to get a book published the traditional way.”
“Only a few artists will ever see their paintings hanging in a gallery.”
“Only the tiniest portion of startup founders succeed.
The barriers are real, there’s no doubt about it. But if we really want something, we’ll find a way to overcome those barriers.
We’re Making Decisions All the Time, Even When We Think We’re Not
We are always making decisions. From the time we choose to wake up to our alarm or snooze it to the time we start getting ready for bed at night, we’ve probably made hundreds of decisions, both large and small.
And the decision not to do something is the same as the decision to do something.
If you don’t wake up to your alarm, you’re making a choice to prioritize sleep over the reason you wanted to wake up at that time. If you don’t pick up that paintbrush, you’re making a choice to do something else with your time. If you think a lot about writing but never put pen to paper, you’re making a choice to dream about writing but not to act on it.
For me, I had to realize that I liked the dream of being an actress far more than I liked the sacrifices required to achieve that dream. Instead of getting down on myself about it, I recognized it for what it was and then successfully diverted my efforts to my real dream: writing.
In the end, I had to hear my husband say what he did so that I would stop putting so much emphasis on the situations that held me back in life thus far. I wasn’t helping myself by holding so tightly to those circumstances. I was using them as a crutch, an excuse for why I had to continue to play it safe. When I let go of that crutch, something awesome happened: I found my own personal balance between calculated risk-taking and proper preparation and planning.
It’s Never Too Late to Own Your Story
As we get older and life hands us curveball after curveball, it’s easy to settle in and say we’re stuck in our current story. But it’s never too late to own your story.
You don’t have to be a slave to your circumstances. You can decide right now, today, right this second, that you want to rewrite the script. You can make this moment your turning point. You can make your state of mind right now your character arc. You can create a future that maps to the things you actively want, not the world that you’ve fallen into by default.
All it takes is one decision to say “yes.” Say “yes” to the life you want – and start making a plan of action to get there. It’s never, never too late to own your story.
Image Credit: Christopher Sardegna