This is the decision, The fork in the road, the single precipice from which there is no return. The one choice that’s gonna change everything for you. From here on out your world will be changed by what happens today. There can be no going back, once you do this your course is set and your trajectory cannot alter.
These are the sticky slick expressions of the forever illusion, a mental narrative of doubt looking to the future and wrapping its awful tongue around your hopefulness. The forever illusion is a way of thinking that locks you into fear and discomfort about every decision you make. It is trumpeted by those who stretch their authority like thin lumpy skin on the back of fear. We are blanketed with their ideas:
You must go to college. You won’t go far without a master’s degree. If you leave now you forfeit your retirement benefits. Jumping around looks bad on a resume. This won’t change. If you do this than you can never go back. This changes everything.
And on and on. We all know thousands of these kinds of comments. Perhaps meant to do well for us, or perhaps just meant to push us in a corner and lower our expectations. They are ideas birthed in patterns of safety, given credence by those who have done it before (but don’t actually have a formula for success) and made viable by how easy it is to listen to fear.
But the wonderful truth is that nothing lasts like we fear it does.
I have seen so many folks in my life get overwhelmed by what I call the forever illusion. They start believing that they have laid a track out for themselves that is permanent and unalterable. After they make a single decision about their life they feel there can be no back-tracking or mind changing. They succumb to fears that the time they have invested in one thing makes it a horrible idea to alter their plans and try something new. And worst of all, they start seeing any setback or course correction as a major event worthy of depression and despair.
Of course, its only when we push against such stresses that we can even realize that the course we’ve laid has problems. And decisions and their problems inevitably come. Stay with the current job, or take a new one? Move to a new area or stay put? Invest or spend?
The forever illusion tells us in moments when a decision is needed – be it about life or work – that this moment is the ultimate point of the process. You lose perspective about what will happen next, and you start to think that the decision you make now will create irrevocable consequences for the rest of your life.
I grappled with this idea when I came back to the US from Japan. Although I had mostly decided that a return to the US would be pretty vital for me, I also had a lot of reservations based in my comfort in and love for Japan. I got stuck with my decision processs, and started to believe that whatever decision I made would be a permanent one that would hold for the rest of my life. I failed to see that it was simply a moment that would pass. And on the other side would be a number of other decisions. I had lost perspective on what the decision was and could mean. I needed to return to the US for a lot of reasons, and although I was away from Japan for awhile, I came to realize that I was still connected to it and that it remains completely accessible to me.
The illusion also happens a lot when you are making art as well. We tend to forget that we can let go of certain drawings or paintings, even the ones we once thought were perfect. We can’t forget that subtraction is as important as addition when creating. Even if you have some excellent little corner of a painting, if it isn’t working with the whole, then it may just need to go. The forever illusion weighs on you, tells you how you will never get back to that again. But the truth is you can. You did it once and you can do it again. Keep your eyes to the whole and not the pieces.
The forever illusion affects creators in other more sinister ways as well. That desire to await perfection can hold your work up, and you start thinking that whatever you produce now will forever define you. But I just can’t believe things work that way now. There is so much fluidity and so much mashing and mixing possibility, that there is no reason to feel that things won’t pass to another point.
So what is the path forward? Thats the question to ask.
Whatever choices lay before us, we are wrong to think the decisions are an end. In reality we are constantly standing before a dark and thick forest and every step just reveals another part of the forest. At each moment we have to choose our way forward. Cut a trail, step gingerly or stiffly, find a pre-made road or just sit and watch.
And each successive moment we are making the same decision. Continue or quit, go forward, right left. The decision process never really ends just our perspective and consciousness of it.