Come, take my hand. What’s done cannot be undone.Lady Macbeth.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
In grade school I wanted to be an actress, until my mom spent several panicked hours lecturing me on the odds against me ever becoming famous, the inability to support oneself on the wages of a frequently out of work actor, the levels of delusion it required to imagine oneself talented enough to make it in Hollywood, and the improbability of me being conventionally attractive enough to “make it.”
I was, like, 7.
Thanks for believing in me, mom. The cycle repeated several times regarding disparate occupations. Becoming a veterinarian requires too much school and math, being in a band was met with the same resistance as being an actress, and an artist usually had innate talent. I don’t know about you, but this seems like real mother of the year stuff.
In high school I decided to become a writer, which was an unsurprising choice, given my “innate talent.” There was little pushback, other than the constant reminder that I’d have to have a “real” job to support myself. I was going to major in English or English Literature. The week I graduated from high school, my parents took me aside and admitted they’d spent the small amount of money they’d saved for my continuing education because, “We didn’t think you’d graduate anyway.”
Cool. Thanks, mom. Anything else you want to spring on me? “Your dad needs his car back, so you know, maybe buy another one?”
So I was dependent on my boyfriend at the time to take me to and from a community college he did not attend. I moved to Tucson with him a year later, and worked three jobs trying to put myself through school. That lasted about a year as well. Always set your kids up for success.
Anyway, I digress.
My point is that most of us have an idea of what we want to do when we get older, and it rarely ends up being something we love. I’d wanted to be a writer and ended up doing nothing but working once a week at my friend’s business, and feeling like I’ve been preserved in amber from the age of 23. Until I look in the mirror and realize that is not the case.
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-— T.S. Eliot, East Coker
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres-
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholy new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate,
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
This undercurrent of regret does not just apply to one’s career; it can also apply to one’s life in general — married too young, too old, just married in general, no children, too few children, too many — and the fact that there is little recourse to correct these decisions is often overwhelming, depending at what point one finds oneself in their life.
We only live once, as people like to point out when making terrible life choices, and we often live it poorly. Messily. Unplanned and chaotic, caught in the spin of expectations or circumstance or inaction. Or all of the above. Hamlet has an entire soliloquy on the subject, which it happens to be my favorite.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;William Shakespeare, Hamlet.
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
It is daunting to attempt even the slightest course correction in one’s life, and the uncertainty of outcome makes it all the more difficult. The question that remains — Is it worth it? — is rarely answerable by any metric, as the future is like water with no fixed path. Each decision creates tributaries of possibility that may cause hurt to others or oneself. We become entrenched. Embedded.
And sometimes, we drown.
But this is life. Shall I eat a peach?