On my ride home today I started thinking of a friend of mine who’s going through a dilemma in “their” life. I use the “their” because I’m going to get sick of writing “his or her” from here on out so yes, I’m taking a lazy shortcut this time.* Especially as I don’t know the fullest details about their problem, nor is it my business to report what it is in the first place, I’m not going to give out too many identifying details. However, my train of thought about their problem took me to some interesting places.
I remember that one of the central themes of the science-fiction show Babylon 5 was that you can’t know what you want until you know who you are. Those who don’t know who they are make bad choices about what it is that they want. I took that message in but didn’t really examine it until I thought about my friend. They are debating a big change in their life which comes with an element of financial risk but would satisfy them more artistically. I think it sounds like they might have enough fall-back plans in place that they could go with the artistic option, but I’m not going to give advice.
That’s just it: there really is no decision which would be “best” for the person. I came to the realization that the “best” decision can only be derived from interpretation based on retrospect, which could be taken in many different directions. We can say that “that was a good move” after the fact, but how do we know that the other move wouldn’t have worked out just as well, if not better? We could say “you should have done this” but my question remains.
That’s not to say that one shouldn’t take into account different potential rewards or risks when making a decision. But the right decision shouldn’t be based on abstract ideas of what’s “best.” The right decision fulfills a person’s needs and desires. The real risk is not knowing who they are before they base a decision on what they want.
The question “Who am I?” can be very difficult. I am a writer, so I want to write. But I’m also a retail employee. Do I want a promotion? In that case, the question came down more to the fact that I was over-worked physically, and I wanted a less (physically) stressful job that didn’t provide any more interference than what my old position did (while giving me more of a sense of financial security). So in that case I was a worn-out receiver who wanted a better job. Being a writer overrides my actual occupation. In other words, I am a retail employee and I want out. That’s why I’ve been more gung-ho about writing over the last few years.
I can’t answer any of these questions for my friend. It may turn out that they decide to stay where they are, and they could end up happier as a result. But I think it might help them if they know which questions to ask.
I just turned moral lessons from a science fiction show into a self-help blog post. I don’t identify with nerd culture but I reserve this as my foot in the door if need be.
*I should also mention that for those friends of mine reading this, I’m likely not writing about who you think I am. I have a friend who put out a public call for help, but in this blog post I’m not writing about that person. I’m referring to somebody who is going through their problem more quietly.