I’ve heard that introspection is good for the soul. Last week I spent, as the old joke goes, a few decades plumbing the nooks and crannies inside my head. I wondered which decisions I made over my lifetime brought me to the life-space I currently inhabit. More importantly, how many of those decisions were really my own choice and not borne out of an unwillingness to fight back, to hold firm against the onslaught of someone else’s ideas of what I should do—someone else’s image of who I should be? It’s a sad reality that people often move through their whole lives stepping to the beat of someone else’s drummer. But is that always a bad thing?
I believe it’s a matter of perception. I’ve made a few life-choices that I regret. But which ones could I honestly say made that much difference in who I’ve become?
A friend of mine is a successful psychiatrist who always wanted to be an artist, but who went to school to please her parents (who were also paying the bills). Years later, she was still unable to completely silence that inner artist. As we chatted over hot tea, she said she’d always wondered what her life would have been like had she been allowed to go to Spain and study painting as she so badly wanted to do as a teen. We followed that thread of thought, and brainstormed possible outcomes she’d have faced had she not listened to her parents. For one thing, we agreed her life would have been immensely different. Whereas she currently made a great living as a practitioner for mental health, she would most likely have struggled to make ends meet as an artist—for years. Maybe throughout her whole life. It is the exceedingly rare exception for an artist to sell enough paintings to live the high life—or even cover the cost of living. Most of the time, it’s the people who invested in her art who make money off her labors—and that’s usually after the artist is dead.
We decided my friend’s life-path hadn’t been such a misstep after all. Now she’s attending art classes at UNM. She works her bill-paying job by day, and happily dabs in oils in the evenings.
As for me, a retired educator (having obeyed my dad’s directive that I needed to be a teacher like my mom), I have the time to pursue my writing. Paying my bills AND living my dream. Not a bad combination.