Like most posts, this one is inspired by a sequence of events that just seemed to come together and make me think about my every day functioning in an oddly different manner. So many of my friends are entering that phase of agonising about their futures, who they are going to be, what they want to achieve and how they are going to get there. All to often, I notice people using the language of paths to describe their anticipated futures. This is a language which I think is fundamentally the wrong way to look at your life
Oyena has commented on this discussion most recently, but the idea is present in so many other discussions that I have had in recent times. It is the outlook that one ‘picks a path’ in life, usually just after university or as part of choosing your degree in the first place. After picking your path, you then follow it to some prosperous or fulfilling end. With your development as a person, your worth to those around you, calculated implicitly on the basis of where you are on your path and how much higher your path is than those of your friends.
There are a couple of obvious problems with the path-metaphor for planning your life, however. If you consider the path that you think will make you happiest and you look at the path that would have made you happiest five or ten years ago, you will see a marked difference between the two. Unless you are a carrot. The difference between your path as it was then and your path as it is now is that you have changed subsequently as a person. You have come to value different things, and have seen new horizons that were not factored into your set of options last time you made this choice. And so your desired path changed with every major change to who you were as a person.
Here is the news flash. That will carry on your whole life long. Unless you really manage to railroad yourself into a single journey and resolutely refuse to explore your heart’s whims for decades, things will happen that will shake you up. You will fall in love. You will lose that love. You will hit points so low you think you cannot get lower. Then you will get lower. The same for your high points. At each juncture a part of you will change. Some parts will get stronger, some will get softer. Some beliefs will become more firmly held and some less so. And with each change, your current circumstances may cease to fit as well as they once did. When that happens, resuming your commitment to a path chosen by a different self in a different time will be less and less satisfying.
Changing direction, and picking a new ‘path’ can be hard, terribly hard. Not least because the more you pursued a particular direction, the more comfort and success you are likely to have accrued from it. Changing your path will reset that success and force you to start again. Admittedly in a life which will fit you better than your last one, but where you will be bottom of the pile again. And in a society that is obsessed with building hierarchical piles (think about the strata at school, in the office, in most clubs and societies), doing anything to give up a high position in one pile for a low one in another is heavily pressured against. And so changing your path, while necessary if your life is to continue ‘fitting’ the person you are, is not easy or particularly widely endorsed, unfortunately.
What should also be evident from this though, is that you can expect your life to change – whether you like it or not. And you will find yourself challenged to decide and decide again what life will fit you best. If that means that your life will not end up where you thought it would, and you are headed in a different direction pursuing happiness than the one you expected, then you should be comfortable with making that change. Presuming to know where your life will take you and trying to fit who you are to that when everything in your heart and mind may pull in another direction just seems a little… silly. Using the language of paths to describe your life presumes this destiny independent of who and what you will become. It is therefore wrong.
Keep a firm hand on who you instead are now, who you are tomorrow and every day after that. And make your decisions informed by who you are at that moment and what is important in your life then, rather than being bound by the plans and desires of who you once were, when you knew less, saw less, and understood less about yourself.