On mourning the person you could have been

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

Once I wrote about how if you keep your options open, you may end up with nothing but a lot of options. And eventually those options will “wrinkle and go black.”

Source: Tim Urban

They say that part of growing older is mourning the person you could have been. But I think we mourn the most for the options that are still open, the figs that are still ripe. “Maybe I should switch to that fig! Because look, it’s right there, and see how juicy it is!” And once the other figs die and fall off, we can finally relax and commit. There’s no more second guessing.

The book Four Thousand Weeks says that we should settle, and settle hard.

Not only should you settle; ideally, you should settle in a way that makes it harder to back out. The great irony of all our efforts to avoid facing finitude—to carry on believing that it might be possible not to have to choose between mutually exclusive options—is that when people finally do choose, in a relatively irreversible way, they’re usually much happier as a result.

We’ll do almost anything to avoid burning our bridges, to keep alive the fantasy of a future unconstrained by limitation, yet having burned them, we’re generally pleased that we did so.

Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks

Pick a fig and cut the others off.

Thanks for reading! Subscribe via email or RSS, follow me on Twitter, or discuss this post on Reddit!

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close