Do you know the feeling? You’ve just learned something, had a transformative insight, or chosen to take a new path and now you are excited. You are going to improve and go kick the world’s ass. That’s when the pushback starts. Your friends and your family look at you silly. “What? No, you couldn’t possibly do that,” they say. “You’ve put so much energy into it, you’re just too good!”
The response can go another way too. They might act like you’re joking. They might threaten leaving you. Who knows what they will do? That doesn’t matter. What’s important is to follow your inner compass, to test the many waters out there before you set sail on a lifetime of specialization.
I get it. It’s hard. I spend five years practicing and taking lessons for the trombone. I was in seven high school bands. I made it into the Minnesota All-State Band. I even got to play in Trump Tower. I was going to be the section leader in my high school’s top symphonic band. Yet what did I do? I quit, quit everything. No more All-State, no more jazz, no more marching . . . the list goes on. But, I got something worth more than all those activities. I got to do what I want: read, learn, and essentialize my life.
It’s strange how life works sometimes. For me, it seems to take huge switches sometimes, throwing me and those who know me off the beaten track of who “I am”. I had started reading seriously at the start of tenth grade. I had been an avid reader in my youth, but had lost the habit. I struck gold with my first book, Sapiens, which set me off on an affair with nonfiction. I probably read 3-5 books per week throughout tenth grade, and have only slightly stalled my reading speed to date. I grew more in a year than I had in the previous five. And my habit would swallow my trombone interests.
I don’t know how the transition happened exactly, but when it did start it was very sudden. I find that a cycle occurs when we switch interests. We build up a reputation around a skill, and then everybody praises us for it. Then we continue improving for a while. But then the strange part happens, at least for me. I seem to switch interests every 2-4 years, doing a complete 180 on my past. It started with a waning interest with music. I stopped taking lessons, I practiced less. Yet my band mates still thought I was a trombone player at heart. That’s when the hard part comes. Termination.
I brought my concerns to my band director. I was going to be a full time college student at 16. No more band. “What?” he said. “No way.” He said that I could be both: a band member and a college student. It would work out wonderfully! And of course, as I have a bad habit of fully agreeing to others I talk to in order to prevent tension, I accepted his words and internalized them. But it only worked for a few days. I grew more anxious to do what I really wanted.
So, what did I do? Well, I was sneaky in my withdrawal. When you want to change plans, you do not need to be 100% clear with those who will clearly be opposed to you switching paths. I talked to my school counselor first, who got me enrolled full time at college. Then I called my band director. He lamented my loss. He said that I was going to be featured in the marching band the following summer, but alas. It actually went much more smooth than I thought it would. I think that the key was that I took action before I spoke. I got wheels turning before I notified anyone. Once they were in motion, there was no stopping me.
And as for my fellow band members? Well, I didn’t even tell them. I do have to say that I cultivate such a freedom, as I do not have any social media whatsoever. I saw them when I came into the high school a few months after, and they were actually excited to see me. There was no criticisms, no anger; just a little bit of joking. I honestly expected more. Before I made my decision, I would picture the people who sat next to me asking what I was thinking. But . . . nothing. Just a “how are you doing?” and that was it.
So, what lessons can we take out of this for the future? I think that the biggest one is that words and social influence are more powerful in your mind than in reality. We transport ourselves into an imaginary future, trying to prepare ourselves for what comes ahead. There will be trials and tribulations, hellfire all around: nobody will accept us. They will push us to “where we belong”. But, and a big but: we can get past these mental magic tricks. We can take action, “just do it”. We need to focus on the steps to get us to our goals, not the noise which surrounds us.
Another practice that would have helped me immensely would be meditation. Meditation has been a blessing that I have discovered through Shinzen Young. It works in a different way for everyone, but I have found the most peace by just describing all the senses that I am having in the moment. When you do so, you start to realize how interesting your life is and even how cool the world is. You just have to pay attention. When you do pay attention, your mind cannot time travel. It is too entranced in the present. All the words of others in your mind (which don’t actually exist) disappear.
When you feel a shift inside you, make a change. Don’t sit on it because it may never appear again. The energy inside you which moves you may never push you in that direction again. My life, as of now, has fundamentally been an exploration of the possibilities of existence. What am I going to do today and how will that lead to what I am going to do in the future? Usually, our plan is solid. A leads to B leads to C . . . leads to my final goal. Yet, when our final goal changes then our whole world starts to shake. Things become uncertain. We don’t know what to do. These moments are when we grow, when we “find ourselves”.
When these moments come, we must keep our own voice clear in our heads. We must not let society’s chatter invade our brain, taking out our desires and replacing them with the hive mind. Our past is the past. We can change. If that means new friends, so be it. New lifestyle? Let’s do it. In the end, we must listen to ourselves. We must choose ourselves. We must be ourselves. That is the only thing we can trust.