The Mortality of Choice

The following musing is brought to you by, this quote and this art ~

Sylvia Plath quote ~ “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

figs 1
figs 2
figs 3
figs 4
figs 5

~ art source Zen Pencils130. SYLVIA PLATH: The fig tree

~ It seems to me when you are young, time is unlimited. In due time, you realize it is not. The clock is ticking. You have finite time here in this world. And with the concept of finitude, comes the mortality of the choices before us. The choice of which path we are going to take becomes paramount. The paths being the verdict on how we want to live our life, what we want to do, and who we want to go alongside. These pathways are particularly personal and affecting. Before we can decide, we necessarily future-cast our life out among different avenues we can envision, with different people and different outcomes for us, seeing the grand possibilities of our passionate activity taken to its proper endgame.

We all do this. We consider our current state in context with that of its end state. We predict, conceive, infer something like our future “happiness.” The family, the job, the companions, the dream, the lifestyle, the sights, sounds and experiences all awaiting us as we play things out to the tune we take up. There is comfort in these imaginings. Dreams of the distant future seem to gloss over the likely hardships and sacrifices required to get there. The envisioned moment we see is made up of only the good stuff. Looking out over the horizon, even beyond it in the eyes of our unborn children, we see our legacy. Or rather, legacies— each of the potential lives we believe we are fully capable of leading. In this dreamy brainstorm, we see the different myths of our eventual, inevitable life fully realized.

The vision doesn’t have to be completely accurate; we know it won’t be. There is so much we aren’t factoring in, namely the fact that everything changes, and it’s happening even now. No, the rub comes with the singularity of fate. Despite this current optionality, this veritable cornucopia of choice before us now – we, at the end, understand there can only be one. There’s a final choice to make. Among our differing and dazzling potential personal legends out there before us in time, there’s only one awaiting our true steps into its canvas. We can glorify and idealize and enliven ourselves over each and every path’s possibilities and our relative happiness within them, and do this over the course of an inordinate amount of time, continually delaying and dreaming further dreams. But ultimately, we must make a step towards one. The first step is big because each subsequent one takes us further from all the others. And we can see this take effect, in real-time and with escalating expediency.

“Choosing one meant losing all the others.” ~ Sylvia Plath

As we bear witness to these other realities spiraling away from us, any step taken along our chosen course without true conviction becomes anxiously damning. Hesitation, or even worse complacence, moves us closer to unhappiness {or worse}.

When decision time comes, each thread which has been cast forward into time to peek at a potential personal legacy must be called forth to our immediate attention. The primacy of the micro-decisions we dictate now will determine everything to be; we are sowing threads into the quilt every day. All those ethereal futures – all those visions of the far future which we crafted within – must be winded all the way back to our present station without. Now from a seat of judgment, each can be inspected, reviewed, and criticized. It’s difficult but useful to consider each of the future options in the here and now. The predictions we have stowed with a steady and a less-than-convicted hand are now valued at present. Perhaps it is obvious, but ‘a priori’ ruminations {thoughts without action or experience} are excruciating; there’s too much to reason out, with too little information and no real emotional resonance borne of actually living it out. The evaluations on the merits of our lives along any one of the tracks we have laid out for ourselves are as illusory as half-remembered dreams. We cannot decide between them because we have not lived them. But we must. We have to decide. We have to make a move, and we have to make it now.


I am experiencing such reflections now, specifically concerning my career’s life course. Out of college, I have started myself in a job I am uncertain of continuing. My interests are wide-ranging; my skill-set is singular, yet malleable. I have learned very early on in working (I knew before but not viscerally, not until I understood via timely experience) that I need to be in a role which makes a difference. This is very much cliche but it’s also true, for me. I see now I need to be involved in driving some kind of meaningful progress, or in creating some kind of meaningful art.

Whether it be progress for humanity through better allocations of the resources at work in this world, the lessening of suffering through forms of consciously philanthropic work, or the advancement of the human condition via the creation of some form of meaningful artistic expression — I need to have this in my work, in the manner in which I make my living. To continue in a career long-term, I need this sense of true meaning imbued into the 8+ hour intervals of my daily grind. One way or another, I’ve gotta have it. The problem is that there are many potential fulfilling vocations out there which might fit these bills, as well as many which will not. Ones that I wish I could have, ones that I think I might be qualified for given hard work (and probably luck), and ones that are merely dreams of a distant future I have a hard time imagining for myself.

In all of this, at my current seat I can see the possibilities of my life, the pathways, before me. And through a rather impassioned gathering of my attention to the world of opportunities around me, I have become primed to an acute awareness of the paths I am not pursuing. All the choices have their pros and cons, their opportunities and risks. There is also always a hedged middle-ground of solutions, half measures I can take to position me for yet another future move into a permanent position; admittedly, these moves are lateral and of course, delay the inevitable. But the convicted moves are all high stakes affairs, filled with uncertainties I am not certain I will be able to bear just yet.

Inclining myself deep into the reverie(s) of the far future:

~ I envision myself continuing on and getting by as a business advisor, a consultant, a developer of corporate machinations to formulaic but economically impactful ends.

~ I devote my acumen to a cause of humanitarian work, and to charity, advocating for rights and life and philanthropic progress on a scale as big as I can manage.

~ I join onto a company working to build the world’s next great technology, looking to responsibly sustain sentient efforts on this planet or take the world to a new peak of advancement.

~ I take on the role of difference maker in the justice system, working in law enforcement, investigation, intelligence — using my skills to actively root out corruption, while helping to reform and improve the moral institutions of my country.

~ I start my own company, command my own resources and energize my own brand of value creation, on my own time and in my own way.

~ I stand among volumes of books, reading, recommending, reflecting on the stories and chronicles of lifetimes I could never lead.

~ I guide the next generation as a teacher, shaping the minds of tomorrow via education, via imagination, via inspiration of the kind which might end up changing the world.

~ I am a writer. Balancing the progress of my self and my art to unknown and contemplatively powerful enterprises entirely of my own choosing.

I draw myself back from these reveries, contemplating each. Each path requires perspective, and something different from me. I am eminently aware that the moves I make now begin to create one destination over all the others. Success, failure, regret, some manner of self-actualization — are all on the menu. The responsibility for the decisions to be made fall upon my shoulders, of course. I must not let the figs fall about me without a hint of my discretion or design.

I know that the next move I make — in the next year and change — whatever it might be, whatever it should be, will be supremely consequential. It will likely chart a relative course for the next phase of my life going forward. And once I am on a singular path, it will be more and more costly to deviate from it the longer I go. Needless to say, it’s nearly immobilizing to consider the choices and the singularity of my fate. The steps and this beginning to a simultaneous dissolution of all the other potential paths out there for me makes the decision for that first step impossibly meaningful.

The only way to know which one is worthy of my time, is to explore them all to their ends. But there’s no time for that. I have to make a move. And I have to do it soon. ~