I used to watch a show titled Two Broke Girls. It’s the tale of two broke girls (surprise!) struggling to hack it in the proverbial big city. They dream of opening a bakery, and having careers in the culinary arts, but end up settling for working at a dingy diner. Pursuing a career in the arts can seem like a one-way ticket to unhappiness, partly because making money is hard for many artists, but mainly because so much of what we’re taught is that choosing to be an artist is a naïve decision. For many years, I hid from my dream to become an artist because I was afraid of what my future would be. This year, my dilemma came to a head when I had to apply to high schools in Manhattan, where I live.
There are hundreds of high schools to choose from, and I found myself stuck in a situation where I was overwhelmed by possibilities and options. Underlying everything were questions about whether I should pursue art or not. I’d been hiding from what I wanted and I hid from the application process, too, until I figured that I had to dwindle down my options. This required thinking hard about what I wanted. I’m an avid lover of the classic pro-con list, so I started making one.
A pro-con list can be helpful almost any time you’re facing an unknown. You can list pros and cons—or just the cons, or just the pros—of the decision that is stressing you out. Just the process of doing that made my thoughts feel a little more organized. If you’re someone who likes less structure, you can write everything you’re thinking and feeling on a piece of paper. Once that’s done, cross out every unproductive thought and keep every productive thought—then you have your own little list of mantras! I’ve had great experiences with these techniques. Making a pro-con list for each school I looked at really helped me determine which ones had the resources I was looking for.
Once you have an idea (a vague or broad one is totally fine) of what you want your future to look like then it’s time to take action, or at least do what you can to set yourself up for that future. Taking steps toward the future you want helps it go from a scary, amorphous maybe to a more defined something. These steps don’t have to be humongous, really, whatever you think will help you achieve what you’re aiming for. Practice a skill that will help you achieve a goal, or save your money to pay for something you want to do in the future. I know I want to pursue a career in art, so I dedicate a chunk of my Saturdays to practicing painting. This helps me feel more confident about pursuing a career in the arts; I know that if I keep practicing I will grow as an artist and my skill will improve. That applies to any skill! The phrase “practice makes perfect” doesn’t come from nowhere.
Much of what has helped me get over my fear of endless possibility is simply acknowledging that having options is a privilege and can be a relief. Think of all the times you’ve been tied down, obligated, or forced to do something. It isn’t a very good feeling. Think, think, and think more about how having options is to your benefit. The unknown is really a plethora of ideas and opportunities, and with work and creativity you can start to shape it into opportunities for growth and adventure. It’s normal to freak out about the future, and you should let yourself freak out about it a little bit. But also give yourself space to acknowledge that possibility doesn’t have to be an enemy.
I won’t lie to you, getting over a fear of possibility is a very individual thing, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. When big decisions come around, I remind myself that possibility is not something you can fend off, but something to accept. Somewhere inside me is all I need to shape an outcome that will help me move toward my dream. Now, instead of avoiding decisions, I assure myself that I have what it takes to make seemingly endless possibility into what I want it to be. ♦