When Do You Stop Keeping Your Options Open?

     I’ve recently realized that one of my worst nightmare scenarios might not be one day turning 40 and being broke, single, and living at home with my geriatric parents.  No, my nightmare scenario might actually be turning 36 and still living like I was 25.

Currently, I am taking advantage of a rare window of opportunity to work part-time – at a bookstore no less, which I’m still thrilled to death about, what up! – and crank out another novel before the spring, all the while pitching Convergence to lit agents.  I had expected my new work colleagues to react with more than few raised eyebrows and odd looks, but it’s a funny thing: when you’re really focused and in line with your dharma, people sense it, and they respect it.  You’re trying for something.  You’re ambitious.

People here get that you’re working on something big, and that while you might be enjoying your current work and will do your utmost while on the job, you’re also “on the bounce”, like Heinlein’s Mobile Infantry, when you’re off the clock. Nowhere is there judgment that you’re 31 years old and working minimum wage in retail, or that you’re not going to show undying allegiance to the corporation.

(Which I’m finding is becoming more of a trend with the typical office jobs and recruiters: you’re simply not allowed to have something else other than the company in mind when it comes to a career).

When you’re focused on a larger goal and what Paulo Coelho calls your “personal legend”, others will sense it.

(Of course, maybe working in an industry mostly centered on books and accessories to the enjoyment of books tends to attract more writers than others, thus limiting any surprise value, so I’ll grant you that).

There are a lot of names for this vibe, aside from Coelho’s definition, but I like to take one from Stephen King: I’m currently walking “the Path of the Beam“.  You know you’re on it because everything in your life lines up and leads you forward.  And like Roland’s ka-tet, there is a lot you have to sacrifice to find your way there, but the journey is worthwhile.

Have you ever stopped and assessed how many time-wasters we really have in our day-to-day lives?  How the sheer availability of choices keeps us distracted from what we’re truly here to do?  In City Slickers, Curly says we all have that “one thing”, and if we can find that and go with it, we’ll find satisfaction in life.

And yeah, maybe it’s an urban thing – cities have just so many possible “one things” that you’ll never get to test all of them in a single lifetime – but a lot of us do spend – and waste – a lot of time trying to figure out what it is, and then not doing it.  Much of the time, the “one thing” is the very thing that we’re told to ignore as children and teenagers in favour of other, more socially-acceptable pursuits.

I’d like to think by the time you reach Twentysomething, you’ve become self-aware enough to have narrowed the candidates for your “one thing” down to a few select options, because later on in life, our Twentysomething habits tend to screw us, and you’ll have some adjusting to do.

You’re out of school, maybe out of the house for the first time, you’re working a stop-gap job or possibly in a job related to your field of study, and you just want to do it all.  And that’s fantastic; you should do it all, or do as much of it as you can.  Shack up with your boyfriend/girlfriend, go travel for a bit, teach English in Korea, go out every Friday and Saturday nights, sample all sorts of questionable substances – whatever floats your boat.  Try life while you can. You’re 23. You’ve got the time.

Just know that when Thirtysomething comes a-knocking, it would really do you well to have figured out one buffet option out of the many to feed you for the next little while.  And this is the tough part.

Unless you’ve got Hermione Granger’s Time Turner, there’s no way for you to be able to do it all, but for you to have some kind of lasting legacy, you’re going to have to pick one.  Or two, if you’re highly organized, but odds are, you’re not.  And that means sacrificing the sampling habit you developed throughout your twenties.  Difficult, yes, but not impossible.

So far, my sacrifices are mostly social and financial, and I could find more cuts.  And sure, it sucks when you see your Facebook feed blowing up with drunken pictures on a Friday night or vacations to the very faraway places that appear on your vision board while you’re at home filing away your rejection emails from literary agents or wracking your brain over plotlines.

Just remind yourself that those people are either already walking the Path or are content with (or resigned to) living fast doing anything to make cash or pay debt.  That’s fine: you’ll have all those things and more, with time.  It’s on its way.

Oddly enough, you might find that not having as busy a social calendar or frantic work schedule at a day job provides you with a quiet joy.  How easily we can forget that even fun events bring their own kind of stress.  Just ask anyone who’s planned a kid’s birthday party or a backyard kegger.

Plus, you’re actually doing it!  Do you know how many people in their older years had the chance to put that “one thing” into action, only they didn’t?  It may seem like small potatoes now, but one day, you’ll be the guy or girl telling your own rags-to-riches story to future hopefuls.  Just by making the choice to go, you’ve already set yourself ahead of most of the population by miles.

But it all hinges your ability to wean yourself off of your distractions.

Do you know what your “one thing” is?

Then stop keeping your options open.  Go to it, gunslinger.  By watch and by warrant, you’ll succeed.

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One thought on “When Do You Stop Keeping Your Options Open?

  1. Always glad to read your blog Jody (even if it is a few days after you wrote it).
    If i can use this analogy…
    Following the right path is a lot like not falling off the rainbow road in Mario Cart… You have to avoid the distractions (the other cars, your Mom yelling at you from upstairs, the Banana peels) and stay on the road… if you can do that, you’ll win every time.

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