Figuring Out What To Do With Your Life: Paralyzed By Choice

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

When I was little, probably around 6 or 7, I told my aunt that I wanted to have a different job for every day of the week. That’s right; I wanted to have seven different jobs. I can’t remember all the jobs now, but I think I wanted to be a judge on one day and a teacher the next. I wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help people and I distinctly remember wanting to be an air hostess who worked a long-haul flight on Thursday nights. Don’t ask me why Thursdays. And on Sundays, I was going to be a lay-preacher. I also planned on having 30 children! I remember my aunt’s surprise at that particular idea. “Asi Chido, nguva yacho unoyiwanepi?” When are you going to have the time to do all this? She doubted me, but I was certain that I could do anything that I put my mind to.

Two things strike me most about this memory. First of all, I’ve never been really good at narrowing down my career choices to just one thing. There is still that six year old in me that wants to be everything. I want to an English teacher so that every student who passes through my class will know how to construct a proper sentence. I want to run a literacy program that provides books to children all around Zimbabwe. Sometimes I imagine myself as a lawyer because you have to be a lawyer first before you get to be judge. Then there’s the idea of being a sports journalist who stalks the Proteas. I think about getting a PhD in Sociology because I love studying people. And at the end of the day, in all of my daydreams, I go home and write stories because that’s just what I am, a storyteller.

So here I am, months away from graduation still looking longingly at all the fruit on the fig tree, terrified to pick one, which brings me to the other striking thing about that six year old me. I used to believe that I could do anything I set my mind to. There was no room for doubt because there were so many things that needed to get done. But then I grew older, I made mistakes and I realized that sometimes you can try your hardest and still fall flat on your face. I cannot do everything. I will never be a doctor because biology and chemistry bore me to tears. And the air hostess ship has probably sailed. The fruit on the tree have started to rot and it’s because I’m not making a decision. I’m so scared that I’m going to make the wrong decision that I’m just sitting here waiting for some aha moment when everything will suddenly be clear.

The problem is “You can’t stay in the fork of the road forever. If you don’t decide, life will decide for you.” The reason I picked the famous excerpt from the Bell Jar as the lead-in to this post is because the narrator was paralyzed by the need to choose. She had all these opportunities in front of her, but they amounted to nothing because she could not choose. She could have been any of those she wanted, but none of those dreams came true because she was too scared to make the decision. Sometimes I say choice is overrated, but those are the words of a spoilt brat and my mother didn’t raise any of those. She raised me to be brave and that’s what I need, just enough bravery to say that this is what I am going to do and the commitment to work hard to see it through.

What do you think? How did you decide what you were going to do with your life?

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3 thoughts on “Figuring Out What To Do With Your Life: Paralyzed By Choice

  1. This is a fantastic entry. I never thought I’d ever identify with a Plath quote. I noticed that nearly everyone among my UNT friends had major stress over post-graduation. Will I get a job I like? Can I meet friends when I move? Will everything be alright?

    To be perfectly frank, I will point out that not everyone got what they wanted. The career didn’t turn out to be as exciting as hoped, they couldn’t make friends, feeling themselves an outsider in their new place, or had unexpected issues that brought with them much stress.

    Still, others are quite successful in making the transition. They’ve new friends, are challenged and enjoy what they do, and may even have set their sights on a family.

    Both outcomes are very normal in my experience, which teaches me not to fear the future, but instead to accept it: “come what may.” In my case, making a career choice was relatively simple because I’d actually started it prior to university as a way to survive. I may be an exception but I did give up some dreams (programming and website design) at the same time. Life has a way of helping you choose because you have bills to pay, and it often lends a bit of impulse to your decisions depending on circumstance.

    I don’t know if I have any particular point to make, but I hope I helped provide a bit of insight and answered your question. Not all the figs that fall are rotten. Not by a long shot.

  2. I guess what bothers me is the idea that I can’t have all the figs on the tree. I’m scared to choose because that means excluding other things. What if I pick the wrong fruit, and I come back in five years and the fruit I now want is gone. I think that’s one of the hardest things about growing up, realising that some of your dream actually have a time-limit.

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