Eavesdropping can change your life. Mine did when some college girls sat at a table next to me in a coffeeshop.
They started talking about study abroad, and my thoughts curdled. Their stories reminded me that I’d lost a large piece of my youth taking care of my mom for my dad, who considered me a failure.
That’s when a little voice starting speaking up.
Given my family history, you have to be careful about voices. My mom had those, and they got her in trouble.
But this voice seemed legit. It reminded me that I was an adult in her late 20s— with a credit card and everything. Nothing could stop me from going anywhere in the world. Taking on some extra debt sounded like a nice alternative to spending another year secretly feeling sorry for myself, wondering what life would’ve been like with two healthy parents. So I stopped brooding and opened a new Firefox tab.
Rewrite your script
Everyone spends a little too much time in the audience, watching themselves act out the world’s version of their life. It doesn’t matter if you’re an addict or a survivor. We all have to start rewriting the script.
My pivot point happened in that coffeeshop, when I decided it was the last time I’d steep in envy over a couple of 19-year-olds, whose parents could afford to fly them around the world.
It was the last time I’d project a future for myself as a spinster whose funeral was attended only by a clowder of cats.
Three months later found me on a beach in Spain with a maxed out credit card, under the moon, looking out at the sea — somber, but sans regret. A trip like this can kickstart a new direction, one where you begin doing the life you want, not the one you were dealt.
Do something radical
Radical plot changes infuse you with confidence. You take the rights to your movie. You stop budgeting for what everyone else assumes you’re capable of, and give yourself a bolder story.
Too many of us let a traumatic past or bad circumstances taint the reel of our futures. We dumb everything down.
We splice out all the romance and special effects.
Make your own deux ex machina
The phrase deus ex machina means god in the machine, or divine intervention. Some cosmic force saves the main characters from hopeless doom. We don’t like random miracles in movies.
We think it’s cheating.
But in real life, you can cheat.
You can make the insane move that nobody expects, the thing everyone considers impossible.
Screw what everyone thinks
Only you know what your life needs. It might sound bonkers to everyone else. They might tell you it’s a bad idea — whatever your plan.
Until a big risk pays off, that’s all it is. A big risk.
A hail mary.
Even you don’t know what’ll happen with your radical intervention. You just know what’ll happen without it.
Everyone thought I was nuts for going to Spain when I did. So-called mentors hounded me with emails. Friends talked behind my back. They wondered, “Is she having some kind of breakdown?”
No, she wasn’t. When she came back, she got a job and published two articles. She left everyone in awe. People who didn’t like her walked up and said, “You’re so much cooler now. What happened out there? You seem like a different person.” She wasn’t different, per se. Just finally being the person she wanted, not the one the world had written.
You can be your own divine intervention.
Don’t let anyone put limits on you
Your friends may laugh off your big ideas. Your parents may tell you to get a real job. Your siblings may shrug.
Maybe you weren’t cut out for Plan A or B or C.
Maybe they’re all right.
There’s two ways to handle the world’s doubt. You can cave in early, and conform to everyone’s low expectations of you. You can play the Hallmark, edited-for-television version of yourself.
The safe one.
You can tell yourself that because you didn’t come from the family you wanted, or grew up in a rough part of town, or got diagnosed with something formidable, that you can only achieve so much.
Or you can keep at the uneven bars until you win, or decide on your own to try something else. It’s fine to toss one draft of your life and start a new one. But don’t let anyone else tell you when to quit, or why.
And before you give up on a future, try one last ditch effort first — be the god in your own machine.
That could be the one that counts.