This week I finally read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and highly recommend it to anyone. It’s like a feminist (and therefore better) Catcher in the Rye. In addition to being beautifully and poetically written, there are some passages that seriously relate to the quarter life struggle of figuring out what to do with our lives and who to do them with.
While reading, I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. Plath writes:
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.
Pretty much exactly how you feel, right? Me too. I read this passage three times in a row and had to write it down and share it.
There’s nothing more amazing than the infinite possibilities that come with graduating from college, entering the workforce or moving to a new city. The bad thing about so many choices is that it can be paralyzing trying to figure out what the so-called “right” choice is. I’ve come to learn that there isn’t really ever a “right” choice, just the choice that’s best for your situation at that particular time.
That’s one of the scariest things I’ve learned after leaving college and deciding to move across the country. There was no way to know if I was doing the right thing, pursuing the right job, moving to the right city, or dating the right guy. It all just came down to a series of choices. The fear comes in when you start second guessing those choices: maybe I don’t want this career, you think, or maybe there’s a better life partner out there for me. These are the two biggest fears I’ve had to face in my twenties, since I began living on my own.
I suppose I always knew that everyone else was questioning the same things, but there’s something about seeing the same quandary so eloquently expressed more than fifty years ago to make you realize that these choices have always been hard for everyone. That girl from high school with two babies, a husband and a house who always posts cute stuff on Instagram? She had to make those choices, the same way another friend may have left the Midwest for NYC to focus unrelentingly on climbing the ladder to be a career boss-babe.
There are no right decisions. The only wrong one is to not choose at all and let life happen to you without doing the emotional work to find out what you want. I was floating along like that for a while, but I refuse to sit at the trunk of my tree and watch precious figs die in front of my eyes.