Bidding my sister lives goodbye
I love Cheryl Strayed so much. Her words have saved me time and again. In different situations I find myself revisiting something she’s written for guidance. Her Dear Sugar column was such a hit it was turned into a book. At different times in my life I will reach out for that book for guidance. There’s always something for me there. The problems being presented may not be the same as mine but her advice points me towards the light over something in my life.
Of late I’ve been thinking of her letter titled “The ghost ship that didn’t carry us”. This is a letter by someone seeking advice on whether they should have children or not. However Cheryl’s response applied to my life regarding certain dreams I had for myself. I found it so relevant that in the moment that I felt I had to make a decision I searched for that letter and read it again and I found my answer.
I think by now I’ve told anyone who’ll care to listen that while I have an Accounting degree, it was never something I wanted for myself. It was my dad’s dream for me. I got that damn degree then hated working in Accounting even more. Many have asked what I’d have done instead. It was a cross between Law and Psychology. As I grew older the pull to Psychology grew even more. At some point I considered studying medicine so I could specialize in Psychiatry. I care deeply about mental health and I wish I could do more in that space.
Medicine turned out to be quite a complicated program to get into so I settled for Psychology. I registered to study Psychology last year, started but had to deregister cos I fell really sick. I made out plans in my head of how I would go back to school full time this year and you know, FINALLY live my dream. LOL That sounded nice in theory.
I wanted to go back to school full time but still maintain my life as is. I rent a cute lil apartment in a quiet and cute suburb with nice big trees along the roads and relatively safe. I have a medical aid plan that costs too much but I can afford because I have no dependents. I have more shoes and clothes than I’ll care to admit. I like going on holiday at least 3 times a year. I also like to eat out and shop as a pick me up. I wanted to go to school full time and still maintain that life. A joke really. Even if I got a sponsor at best they’d rent out a room for me in a students’ residence where I got to sleep in a single bed again like I was back in boarding school.
A job opportunity presented itself late last year and I was pegged for the role based on my qualifications and previous work experience. Nothing to do with mental health. Actually as business-y as it can get. I went through the interview process and I got the job. Yay. Then I started asking myself, what about Psychology? Which is when I remembered Sugar’s letter.
Make a list. Write down everything you don’t know about your future life — which is everything, of course — but use your imagination. What are the thoughts and images that come to mind when you picture yourself at twice the age you are now? What springs forth if you imagine the 82 year-old self who opted to “keep enjoying the same life” and what when you picture the 82 year-old self with a thirty-nine year old son or daughter? Write down “same life” and “son or daughter” and underneath each make another list of the things you think those experiences would give to and take from you and then ponder which entries on your list might cancel each other out. Would the temporary loss of a considerable portion of your personal freedom in middle age be significantly neutralized by the experience of loving someone more powerfully than you ever have? Would the achy uncertainty of never having been anyone’s father be defused by the glorious reality that you got to live your life relatively unconstrained by the needs of another? What is a good life? Write “good life” and list everything that you associate with a good life then rank them in order of importance. Have the most meaningful things in your life come to you as a result of ease or struggle? What scares you about sacrifice? What scares you about not sacrificing?
I wrote down my list of what made up a good life and when I was done I realized that it had NOTHING to do with my day job. Absolutely nothing. A job really is just a means to an end. I trade in my time and knowledge for money that affords me a life that I want. She goes on further to say:
So there you are on the floor, your gigantic white piece of paper with things written all over it like a ship’s sail, and maybe you don’t have clarity still, maybe you don’t know what to do, but you feel something, don’t you? The sketches of your real life and your sister life are right there before you and you get to decide what to do. One is the life you’ll have, the other is the one you won’t. Switch them around in your head and see how it feels. Which affects you on a visceral level? Which won’t let you go? Which is ruled by fear? Which is ruled by desire? Which makes you want to close your eyes and jump and which makes you want to turn and run?
I realized that actually the corporate jobs I took paid me enough to live comfortably. And I was content with that. I’m no longer trying to change the world I really just want to be happy. And the money I get from my jobs buys me my happiness and better yet there are other things that bring me SO much joy that don’t even cost money. So I had to be honest with myself. Right now my Psychologist self is my sister life. My real life is very corporate-y. It felt like everything that ever clouded my vision and consequently my judgment fell away. I no longer lived in “I will be happy if I…” world. I looked at my life, as it was and decided I was happy with it so I accepted the job offer.
Will I ever be a therapist? Honestly? I don’t know. And surprisingly, I am okay with it. I like my life as it is. In fact, I love it. It’s the corporate jobs that have been paying for my therapy for the past 4yrs and counting. I am happy and content with my life as it is. Honestly? If I had to study some more I’d rather do my Masters than start afresh in a different field right now. School is not fun. And that’s where my current self is at right now. This has freed me to present my whole self to my job. It has made me fully present in my life and not constantly fantasizing about a life that could be.
I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.
My current self has business qualifications and therefore will work in corporate. I salute the ghost ship that didn’t carry me from the shore.