“You seem very concerned with obligations,” said my friend, over coffee. “Every sentence you’ve said today contains the word ‘should.’ Forget what you should do; what do you want?”
She was right. Somehow, I hadn’t noticed the “shoulds” creeping in. Not only was I doing backbends to appease others, but I couldn’t answer her question. What did I actually want?
A week later, my TV decided to ask me again.
In the season one finale of Master of None, the main character, Dev, grapples with decisions about his relationship, job, and future. Inspired by his dad, he reads this famous passage from The Bell Jar:
I saw my life branching out before me… 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 Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions… 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, 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.
Cue complete and utter freak out.
Never mind that I’d already read The Bell Jar. Or how the deployment of Plath-as-plot-device is painfully on-the-nose. That one little voiceover forced me to confront all of my choices. And, more urgently, all I had not yet accomplished. There I sat, as the credits rolled and for weeks after, feeling paralyzed by any type of momentum.
Because decisions. Because regrets. Because dried fruit analogies. (Could there be a less appealing way to illustrate the passage of time?) Options, of course, are a wonderful thing. It’s not the choices themselves that feel scary, but the loss implicit in whatever we don’t choose.
Choosing one meant losing all the rest.
Indeed, I’d been so scared of the dead fig brigade that I tried to consume all possible figs. Guess what? That doesn’t work.
When faced with any crossroads, I often think back on the advice offered up by an early boss. “People get so hung up on making choices,” she said, “But it’s not so much about the choice itself. It’s about what you do after you make it.” I agree that follow-through and intention matter most. But you still need to, like, choose a direction.
It wasn’t until I encountered these words from the small but mighty Perfectly Imperfect that I began to breathe a little easier.
You are always in a dance of yes and no. Being a yes automatically makes you a no for something else. In fact, if we cannot point to what we are saying no to, then our yes means nothing.
I’ll admit, upon first reading, it sounded a little like Buddhist Doctor Seuss. But then I let it sink in. One cannot advance in the direction of one’s dreams without sacrificing a few figs. I began to accept how letting go — of options, of expectations, of well worn security blankets — can be good.
This concept, the dance of yes vs. no, helped me reframe the world not as a series of black and white, either/or choices, but rather a process of electing moments. You can choose each tiny movement based on what feels right, and continue to do so until they add up to something bigger.
I cannot tell you where any of us will be at this time next year. But I can stop, each day, and consider: Does this serve me? Do I feel okay? Shall I keep going? Should I retrench?
Through these two simple words you enter some situations and move away from others… It is the obvious, but it is often so obvious that we miss its power to profoundly transform a moment, a pose, or our lives.
Whether you practice yoga or not, I highly recommend becoming acquainted with this book.
I still harbor many feelings about figs, but I trust that they’re part of the process.