12 June 2015
My dear oldest son, on the occasion of your graduation from college,
You walked for your diploma last Sunday but you finished the degree in November, so I imagine you’re tired of people asking what you plan to do next. Decisions, decisions. I know you hate them. Would it help you to know I hate them, too?
I get it, really. Major decisions always feel so dangerously permanent. Perhaps you fear they can never be undone, or if they go wrong you’ll spend a lifetime reversing—or living with—the fallout. Risk terrifies and immobilizes us. It drives our backs into a corner.
But I’m here to tell you the worst thing you can do is to never make any decisions at all, to let things just happen through neglecting to choose a direction. Listen, my son: You’re better off taking those alternate routes, because at least you are trying to go somewhere else.
Indulge me while I draw an analogy of sorts. Remember Doc’s explanation of the space-time continuum in Back to the Future? If you begin at Point B, go back in time, and arrive at Point A, what you do there affects time going forward. Should you significantly alter the fabric of Point A, you can never return to the original Point B. That can be a good thing. As Marty McFly learned when he boosted his teen father’s confidence, some tweaks work great and lead you to a more satisfying replacement Point C.
So, son, will you—like Marty’s dad—keep trudging toward a hum-drum Point B, or will you do something to fine-tune the trajectory of your life? Thirty years from now, Marty McFly isn’t going to time travel to boost your inner drive here at Point A. So, what happens when you reach that lackluster Point B and wish you were living your life at Point C?
Yes, changing the space-time continuum can lead to mistakes, as Marty found out. His parents ended up with a much better future, but he also gave Biff the idea of betting on sporting events, which screwed up the McFlys’ lives after all. Naturally, Marty and Doc fixed the problem. Life isn’t Hollywood, but my point is that life can be adjusted. Some decisions work great, and you congratulate yourself. Others you regret, but they’re still a jumping off point, a way to move forward. When you dare to change the space-time continuum, your future becomes Point C, a place of your own choosing, which is always better than passive Point B.
And that’s the whole point, really. Life is all about making choices and managing their varied consequences. We have only a few decades to sort this stuff out. Detours are long and painful, it’s true. They become longer, however, when we roll over and run with the tide. Nothing is worse than waking up to find your prime years have already passed.
If I can impart any wisdom, my son, it’s to preach the gospel of making decisions. I look back on my youth and see missed opportunities. In some ways, I’m living at Point B instead of Point C. And knowing that, I still struggle to enter commitments; their gravity weighs me down like concrete shoes in a river. The difference is now I have that awareness. I watch myself pause for days or weeks at a time. I even write about my weakness, as I did in Fish or Cut Bait. But awareness is winning half the battle. By setting goals and deadlines, by slapping yourself inwardly and calling yourself out, even indecisive folks can push through the riptide and break out to freedom.
Make decisions, my son. Make them and own them, even if they’re wrong. Own when you do something terrific or terrible, and if it was terrible, set your sights on a destination that propels you away from that terrible place. Never settle for Point B when your heart beats for C. Never settle for C, either, when you get there and find it’s not good enough. Settling for the status quo, allowing the space-time continuum to drown you in hum-drum, brings nothing but dissatisfaction and regret. Striving and changing, being willing to take chances, will allow you to someday look back and say, “I did all I could. I shaped my own life.”
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