Molly Furey writes about standing at a crossroads deciding which path will induce less FOMO…
I have thought about my eulogy more than I care to admit in recent months. If I died tomorrow, what would people say about me? Would I be satisfied, regret-less? Or, if I don’t die for another seventy years, what would be said then? Where would my life have taken me by that point? How varied or how linear would it have been?[restrict]
I’d like to disclaim that I’m not a total narcissist. Though I do take a shameful amount of satisfaction in imagining people wistfully saying nice things about me, I find myself preoccupied by the shape of my life recently because it is at its most malleable to date. Or at least, I find myself aware of my ability to shift its course right at this moment.
I recently finished university and, pandemic or no pandemic, this was always going to be an ambiguous time for me. I haven’t followed a vocational path such as teaching or nursing, so there is no set professional-itinerary I am supposed to follow. I’m also the kind of hippy that is set on “doing what I love”.
I haven’t quite shaken the imaginative possibilities of the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. It was once such an exciting question for us all, filled with promise and possibility rather than dread and terror. Nothing was off the table and, better yet, no explanation as to how one actually planned to achieve such high ambitions was required. Most people have a cutesy story about the occupation they once dreamed of having when they were younger. There are the classics – astronaut, zoologist, firefighter – and the not so classics – I once had a three-year-old tell me that she hoped to be an ornithologist. The beauty of the question in that young, innocent moment is that no answer is too outlandish and all imaginings are plausible.
Now, however, everything seems outlandish and nothing seems plausible. Admittedly, I crossed off the possibility of becoming an astronaut, zoologist or firefighter long ago, and I didn’t know what an ornithologist was until I met that three-year-old. But I did float through college on the wings of unrefined plans and ill-thought-out ideas, refusing to cling onto one and indifferently assuming that some kind of vocational epiphany would hit me just in the nick of time.
I harboured various versions of my future self throughout university, hopeful that at least one would stick. I did this not because I planned to lead a smorgasbord of irreconcilable lives, but because it was another way to kick the can (of my life and its career prospects) further down the road. As is the nature of roads however, I’ve hit something of a juncture. I need to choose a new direction for this can of mine, if only to kick it out of sight for another while.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I find myself window-shopping my imaginings, these different worlds I’ve created for my “adult” self, all of which involve some form of world domination and a heroic tale of success and immutable contentment. But do I pursue the most practical one? Or the most realistic one? Or what about the most fulfilling one?
It feels like a series of loaded decisions. In pushing forward with one idea, we necessarily abandon another, crossing off the possibility of becoming a “type” of person we once thought we could be. I’m discovering the discomforting reality of having to leave any number of dream-selves at the door in order to inhabit the one that seems most right. Traditionally, knowing “what’s right” is portrayed as the challenge, but I’m realising that the real trouble lies in accepting that you can’t be all the things you might very well be capable of being.
Clifford Geertz wrote in “The Interpretation of Cultures” that “one of the most significant facts about us may finally be that we all begin with the natural equipment to live a thousand kinds of life but end in the end having lived on one”. It’s one thing to read this after the fact and look back on the lives one might have lived, but what about facing into the “thousand kinds of life” you could lead, knowing that with every move you make, you likely eliminate one or more of them?
This is FOMO on steroids. I’m scared of relinquishing imaginings of all the people that I could be, all the lives I could lead. It is easy to say that in 10, 20, 30 years time you can pursue this or that interest, but every decision made in this moment feels definitive. With each big choice, an unlived life is created.
I can hear myself in thirty or forty years’ time recalling the confusion of my twenties, and the random, spontaneous events that resulted from such uncertainty, with a nostalgic fondness. It feels very odd to imagine what my future self will think about the decisions I am currently making. Will she regret them? What will she know about myself that I don’t yet? Will she mourn an alternative self that I am currently prepared to abandon? Will I be happy with the choices I made (am making)?
Devastatingly, I won’t be able to attend my funeral and, of course, there’s no knowing when it will be, but I’m thinking about it as I start to make perhaps the most adult decisions I’ve had to make to date. You’d be justified in thinking me an egomaniac who is totally overreacting to a relatively promising set of circumstances, but I don’t feel alone in this existentialism. We’ve all gone through a version of it. We all just want to lead a life that our younger selves would have excitedly imagined, and that our older (wiser, dying) selves will be pleased with. It’s in finding the equilibrium between the yearnings of both that lies the challenge – all in the name of a smashing eulogy.[/restrict]