A Life Sentence

one way, sign, bricks, wall, window, sill, railing

Sometimes you stumble across something–a fragment from a poem or song, or a glimpse at a work of art–that stops you dead in your tracks because it so perfectly reflects your state of mind.  It happened to me this week while I was reading and came across the following:

“The prospect of his future life stretched before him like a sentence; not a prison sentence, but a long-winded sentence with a lot of unnecessary subordinate clauses…”

From Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Lately I’ve been rapidly cycling through the extremes of hope, fear, and despair.  I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.  The possibilities are endless!  The potential for failure is immense!  Is there even anything I can do to change things without making everything worse?  Should I just keep plugging along, meandering aimlessly, until eventually time runs out?

The truth is, there are a lot of aspects of my life that I can’t control, but there are many that I can.  The burden lies in making a choice about the kind of life I want to live–the risky “follow your dreams” sort of life, or the reliable but disappointing one–and working every day to make that life the best it can be.  Is there a middle ground?  I think there is, but not at my current job.  At least, not without the immense amount of guilt I would feel over not giving my job my full dedication.

I can see one version of life where I play it safe and am very happy.  What I’d have to give up?  A little freedom and a lot of dreams.  This is all a part of growing up and coming to terms with my limitations–logical; inevitable.  But this is the sort of sacrifice that might eat away at me from the inside out–I haven’t been able to kill the dream yet, even with my incongruous lifestyle.  So I could just go for it.  I’d take a huge paycut, but I’d find a way to make things work…  Right?

But so much hangs in the balance.

You can’t build a life around a dream, can you?  You have to crunch the numbers, research the facts, follow the rules.  You have to be logical and do what makes sense.  Don’t you?

And so I’ve been thinking in circles and questioning everything.  I’ve questioned myself to the core–Who do I think I am to deserve something more?  How crazy am I to think I could accomplish the improbable?  I’ve studied statistics!  Am I a bad person for being unhappy?  Am I selfish?  Demanding?  Unrealistic?

Yes, maybe.  But when you can’t kill the dream, you have to find another way.  You have to live with it, and not against it.

I know I’m not the only one struggling with this kind of decision.  If you’ve found a way to reconcile this dilemma, please share!  How did you make your life sentence a meaningful one, and not a long, tangled thing full of false starts and repetitions, droning on monotonously until it drifts off…?


13 thoughts on “A Life Sentence

  1. A long time ago someone once told me life was the journey not the destination. I did not play it safe. My gypsy soul became restless. I took the risks to follow MY heart, definitely not my head. The path has not always been fun-filled and easy and has taken me places I really didn’t want to be. I just couldn’t wait for traditional retirement though, hoping I had saved enough, to start living. Someday, I’ll put all my gathered stories into a book…

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds like you’ve had a lot of amazing experiences! Do you think you would make the same choice if you could go back? Did you feel like following your heart was the only way to live authentically?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I lived in “the mold” as I’ve called it for a span of 10 years after college. I exhausted myself (literally) trying to make it all work…living selflessly for everyone, making sacrifices for everyone–everyone except myself. I ran full speed and dove off a cliff (figuratively of course). If I could go back, I would set boundaries and learn how to effectively communicate. I have had some amazing adventures, but I have had some great sorrows as well. Had I done it differently, the longing, nagging, in my soul would never cease.

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        1. I think I’m at the same crossroads you were at… I’ve played it pretty safe my entire life up to this point–not in an entirely conventional way, but very safe. I feel like the security has helped me in some ways, but I always feel unsatisfied, as if I’m giving up the best parts of life by tying myself down. I feel the “longing, nagging in my soul” too!

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          1. Just remember to pace yourself…this life is a marathon, not a sprint and it changes courses on you at moments you least expect…always be flexible to roll with the punches. Your dreams, your goals, they are gifts…remember to always give thanks for them!!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow Addie, I loved this post. Your indecision, some desperation, want for guidance, a sign (?), really shines through. Beautiful writing, really had me wondering who you are. You seem incredibly conscientious yet underneath, a wanderlust quality. I may be way off. Wish the answers were clearer – I’ve always dreamed of a billboard that would appear with the answer (s) I needed. Never happened. Indecision has always plagued me …. Keep writing, you may find some direction there?
    Xo Carrie


  3. Definitely feel like I’m reading the pages of my own journal here… I gave up a very stable life to go back to school and follow a dream. Great pay, benefits, awesome respectable career… But it wasn’t me, and so I gave it all up. I felt daily that I was putting on a costume. I’ve starting to realize that even if you do nothing, that dream will always be there. It’s whether or not you can bear to live thinking “what if?” the rest of your life. Your dream may change as you grow but if you don’t follow it, you might not be growing in the way you want. Just my opinion, but I say go for it!


    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence! I certainly can relate to the feeling of “putting on a costume”… It’s painful going to work everyday, seeing people who are so in their element and so enthusiastic about work, and knowing that deep down I can never authentically match that level of passion or commitment! I also get these flash-forwards to being a bitter old lady who wasted her life sticking it out for the retirement checks…

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  4. Preach it sister! I’m such an analyzer and I can spend sooooo much time thinking rather than putting things into action. My mom started Law School when I was in the 9th grade and my dad was deployed to Iraq. Was it a crazy time? Oh my goodness yes. Was it an amazing example to me and my three siblings? Absolutely, yes. The four of us all have different perspectives from that time (I’m the oldest), but we are united in our amazement of our mother. She was still very present in our lives while pursuing her dream at 40 with my dad gone. She told me that she read an advice column about a man wondering if he should still pursue his dream of going to med school, because he would be 40 by the time he finished. The lady’s response, “Well, you can be 40 and a doctor, or just be 40.” The next day, she applied and that fall she started 🙂 I say if your family is behind you (even if it’s going to be hard) do it!

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