Written by: Christopher Sell
Primary Source: The Wednesday Wake Up
Sometimes I wonder if life is really a sequence of acts corralled together by a director, like a play on Broadway, a fictional novel, or an orchestra performing Beethoven’s next symphony.
As if our time on Earth is strung together by monumental stages of development that fit nicely into the confines of economics, society, and textbooks written by theorists with famous names like Freud and Eriksson.
First Act? Childhood. Second Act? Parenthood. Third Act?
Whatever you do after your kids have grown and fled the coop, I suppose. Lots of possibilities.
I was reminded of this analogy the other day while watching an episode of “Parenthood” on NBC. In the show, the grandmother and matriarch of the Braverman family, Camille, explains to her husband Zeek (played by Craig T. Nelson) that she’s interested in selling the family homestead now that the kids have grown and left the house. The same house they had lived in for decades. The house in which they had raised their children. The house in which they had hosted grandiose wedding receptions for their grown kids and even grander sleepovers for their grandchildren.
The house they had made their home.
In describing her wish to sell the house, Camille implored her stubborn life partner to think of it as their Third Act.
An opportunity to do something completely different. A chance to redefine one’s self or one’s perspective of the world around us.
I used to believe that thinking about life in this sort of fragmented and neatly organized way was fool’s gold. And I still think it’s a flawed method.
But I think there’s some truth to Camille’s desire to re-imagine what comes next in her life story.
For many of us, Act 1 is delivered to us like a Christmas present with a bright red ribbon wrapped around it. We age into and out of a school system based on seasons and a students’ age. We can even get our driver’s license at a certain age. We’re coddled and prodded into the beginnings of particular occupations, colleges, and careers by our parents and peers. Most dating and courtship happens within the latter part of our Act 1.
But I’ve found that things get a bit blurry once Act 1 succumbs to our second act. Sometimes, the transition from the first symphony to the next isn’t so seamless.
What if we don’t want to be a parent? Or we’re not sure when we want to exchange vows? When should we abandon the job(s) or career that we thought we loved or mom and dad told us to pursue but realized wasn’t right for us? How much frustration is too much?
(For the record, I’m a happily married parent who happens to really like his current career).
The most terrifying and liberating fact I’ve discovered in my 20s is that life indeed seems to be constructed with stages and milestones — but there’s only one person who controls how many acts you have in your life and when you move from one to the other.
And the boundaries between the various stages in life are a lot more fluid than moving from kindergarten to first grade.
The freedom can seem endless, liberating, and paralyzing.
I’m 28 years-old. If I don’t want to be a career educator, I can change the story. I can create a new narrative. Sure, every person has his or her limitations and realities. If I told my wife tonight that I’m going to quit my job and pursue a new career as a professional basketball player, that probably wouldn’t go over very well. Initially, she would laugh. A lot. But then she would remind me that the bills still have to be paid. Food still has to be put on the table. Someone’s gotta pay for that Netflix account.
But ultimately, we hold the tickets to the next big game of which we want to be a part.
Assuming the role of Director and moving from one part of the Broadway show to the next can be scary. Anything that is different from what we’re accustomed to often is. But the more terrifying option is to refrain from turning the pages to the next chapter in your storybook.
So on this Wednesday morning, I hope you wake up with courage and strength to re-imagine your next Act without worrying about prescribed expectations for a pending career move or major life decision.
Turning the pages to the next chapter in your story can be uncomfortable.
But hiding from the chance to redefine your life is an even scarier proposition.