Don’t Get Locked In

“I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable—if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.”

David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

What causes me to get locked in?

  • Expectations
  • Ambitions
  • Beliefs
  • Opinions
  • Identity
  • Ideology
  • Dogma

Not everything can be changed, but if we are honest with ourselves about the most important stuff we can change a lot. For my part, I’ve found that I have to manage how I view myself with lots of self compassion. We all know that thinking we are the best at something is a recipe for disaster, but thinking we are no good is just as bad. Balancing expectations and ambitions is important. What I believe about myself is even more potent, and flexible. Having a rigid and highly specific identity can be a big problem. If I thought of myself as a football player with a fantastic career ahead of me, and I got injured in high school that would be devastating. On the other hand, if I thought of myself as someone who enjoys playing sports with my friends, and healthy competition the injury could be an opportunity to grow through challenges in other areas of my life.

Religion and politics are a part of our identity, but our opinions about them are largely formed by our families and valued social groups. If I’m truly honest, the only option I see here is tolerance, acceptance starting with self compassion. Locking in to religious dogma or a political ideology is equivalent to giving up your identity to the mob, and maybe even your soul. It’s hard to be tolerant and compassionate about that in other’s, but we must. And to have that compassion, we must see that rigidity and intolerance in our selves first. Isn’t that the best way to avoid the nihilism David Foster Wallace describes so eloquently?

We must look deep into our selves, and see that we deserve our own compassion to be able to share that with the world, and avoid getting locked in.

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