There exist these heavy pauses in conversations, right after phrases like, “I’m going to grad school,” “I’m moving,” “I’ve decided I want to be with them,” or “I’m pursuing my dream career.” They’re the moment when the air gets thick and uncomfortable and you are overwhelmed with the pressure to follow it up with, “well, you know, I’ve really been getting things together lately and it looks like it’s going to be the best choice,” or some other meaningless saying that takes a bit of the edge off. It doesn’t really matter what you say, to be honest, it only has to soften the blow of your decision and reassure them that it is, in fact, what you really want.
And beyond proving to them that this is what you want to be doing, there is the further need to convince them that it’s a good idea. No matter how peripheral the person is in your life — the judgmental friend of a parent springs conveniently to mind — it’s almost as important to justify your choice as it is to make it in the first place. Regardless of the choice itself, or the kind of risk it involves, it’s hard not to feel like you’re making it for not just yourself, but for everyone around you. After all, should you fail, it will be out there for everyone to see with just a few clicks through social media — and we all know it. It’s not enough just to finally take that first step, you have to then write a dissertation on exactly why you did it and hand it out to everyone you’ve ever met.
As we’re expected to lay everything out perfectly for everyone’s benefit, we often develop reasons for what we’re doing that are far removed from our actual motivations. Let’s be honest, “I’m not sure I can make it as an artist, but I will hate myself forever if I don’t try,” doesn’t sound quite as good as “This MFA program is extremely high-ranked and networking there will be irreplaceable.” For everything we do, there is a perfectly acceptable way to go about telling people that makes it sound, if not a clear move for the better, at least well thought-out. But the truth is we often do things, go places, and love people for entirely wrong reasons. We do them because they make us feel alive and full, and we are happiest when we are pursuing it — even at the risk of losing security and familiarity. We will construct endless tapestries of lies and obfuscations just to justify what, to us, seems like the most obvious choice in the world.
But why? We know that, regardless of the neatly packaged reasons we come up with for doing what we do, there are going to be those people who look at us with disdain, envy, condescension, or any combination of the three. There are going to be those who resent or dislike our choices, and for whom no amount of explaining things is going to suffice. Maybe, in some way, we’re justifying as much for ourselves as we are for them. Just to hear the words come out of our mouths — these reasonable, orderly, well-planned words — makes us feel that the risk we’re taking is somehow less dangerous. If we can just convince enough people that what we’re doing is good for us, well, we may eventually convince ourselves.
It is important to remember that, ultimately, we don’t need to convince anyone. Once our minds are made up, they’re made up, and no amount of lying to oneself through other people is going to soften the blow. And for the rest of them, frankly, who cares? Sure, there is always the risk that you will fail and have to deal with the sting of their thinly-veiled “I told you so” looks, but that’s a perpetual rule of life — especially now with social media. All we owe anyone — if we even choose to indulge them — is a simple, honest explanation of what we’ve chosen to do. If “It’s what I want, it makes me happy,” is not enough to wipe the smirk off their face, you shouldn’t be telling them anyway. Frankly, some people are always going to be downing your choices, and it’s best not to feed the trolls.