I want talk about about Big Moments.
I’m talking TRULY big, major events in my life–the plot points that helped get our family where we are today. Big like like you-wouldn’t-be-here-if-they-didn’t-happen big
And here they are:
1. I decided to pursue theatre.
2. I decided to move to Chicago.
3. I decided to audition for the Neo-Futurists.
4. I decided to propose to your mother.
5. We decided to have you.
6. We decided to move to Evanston.
When you die, there’s very little that goes into an obituary. (I used to get paid to write them, so I know this well.) How old were you, where you lived, what you did for a living, big accomplishments, marriages, kids…that’s about it. That information is basically the “dash” you see between a birth date and a death date on a tombstone. If I were to die today, all those details would have emerged from the six decisions above.
I’d like to re-examine all of these decisions for your benefit, by explaining what came before them:
1. I decided to pursue theatre because I failed to get into grad school to study Film at NYU.
2. I decided to move to Chicago because my brother died and it dramatically rearranged my priorities.
3. I auditioned for the Neo-Futurists because I saw an ad in a paper while I was looking for grant-writing work–a career path I had chosen that turned out to be a poor fit.
4. I decided to propose to mom after doing nothing but failing at love. Badly. Over and over again. And with no experience that told me what I was about to do was the right thing, I made a leap. (This is everyone’s path before marriage, by the way.)
5. We decided to have you when our theatre careers were (almost) over, and we felt a sense of lack, like we missed you before having met you.
6. We moved to Evanston because Time Out Chicago Magazine cut the column I was writing, and when I reached out to friends for possible leads on opportunities that might save our butts, I stumbled onto some freelance work with ZS. Then ZS offered me a full time job if I relocated.
Do you sense a theme?
None of these major, path-shifting events were precipitated by anything resembling success. None! All of them required failure or loss to some degree, and would not have happened without that failure or loss.
And get this…Almost every loss made me feel like my life was over. Not getting into grad school was DEVASTATING. Jon’s death; every breakup that led to my meeting mom; the end of my theatre career and not knowing what would come next; losing my column…These were low points in my life! But look what came of them?
Plans have their purpose, but…guess what I was planning to do with my life before each of these decisions were made?
1. Become a filmmaker
2. Dump my girlfriend, let her move to Chicago on her own, then win back an ex and start a theatre company in Worcester, Massachusetts.
3. Become a grant writer while starting my own theatre company in Chicago
4. Start dating someone I was sure would be the next love of my life…and that woman’s name…was NOT Genevra. And we never even had a first date.
5. Take step one in a grand plan which involved: moving to Carbondale, having two kids, getting my degree in creative writing, then moving to another part of the country for my job as a creative writing professor while mom opened a private counselling practice.
6. Relocate from Carbondale to anywhere…EXCEPT back to the Chicago area.
NONE of those plans happened! Apart from moving to Carbondale. Very little of my life, in fact, resembles any of the big plans that I made for it over the years.
Am I saying don’t bother to plan anything?
No. Because if I had sat passively, and not tried to make things happen, I’d still be living with my parents.
What I am saying, however, is that you need to see your plans and your failures for what they are: anything but absolute.
Your failures hurt. No sense denying that. But failure and loss, without question, are you greatest teachers, your biggest opportunities.
Your plans aren’t useless, but hold them loosely in your hand and remember that their value may not lie in their realization.
Be flexible, Ari. Listen to your life. It speaks to you constantly, like your echo in a deep canyon. It gives feedback on your choices, nudges, challenges, surprises and upends you in moments that cry out for your response. You’ll notice that the more flexible you are, the more in-tune you are with your life as it is…and as it wants to be; life will get more peaceful and simple. You may also notice that the more you cling to the picture of how you thought your life should have been and compare it to how your life is now, the more out-of-tune you’ll become with your life. “Failures” will appear to come more often, (a teacher teaches the same things over and over again until you get it,) and you’ll mostly be sad.
People think success is about setting and meeting goals–essentially making change in your life. To me, success is more about how you respond to change, not how you make it.
When I look back on my life, I still feel like plans have a lot of value, but expectations? I can’t see any value in them. I think at best they do nobody any good. At worst, they keep you feeling stuck and unhappy.