Dear Chris (age 19),
Ditch the plan.
As I sit in a dressing room at Actors Co-op in Hollywood, backstage of our second weekend performing Hound of the Baskervilles (shameless plug…get your tickets here), I’m thinking about Seven Brides for Seven Brothers which opened 20 years ago this weekend on Maranatha Stage at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. That show has always been an example to me of how one decision can lead to change.
I was 19, a sophomore in college, and I had my whole life planned out. I had known for several years that I wanted to major in psychology and ultimately work with abused children. I had always loved performing, but I’m a Krebsbach…we make rational life decisions. I had no aspirations of being an actor professionally…though I clearly remember wanting to be famous when I was in 8th grade.
I didn’t audition my freshman year because I assumed that underclassmen wouldn’t be cast. I was wrong. So when the time came to audition in the fall of 1995, I went for it. And I got a role. Ruth Perkins…one of the seven brides. I acted, I sang, I danced.
It was a blast. And I fell in love with theatre.
By the time the show was over, I wanted to be an actor for the rest of my life. But I couldn’t bring myself to change my plan. I just “knew” that if I altered my trajectory that I’d somehow be making the biggest mistake of my life. And, after all, acting was not a responsible life choice.
I’ve always had a hard time making decisions, especially the ones that pit my brain and my heart against each other. For a year and a half I struggled between what I wanted and what I thought I “should” do. If I changed my major, would I be ruining my life?!
After hearing me talk about it for way too long, my RD’s sweet husband…who’s the kind of guy that doesn’t speak much so when he does you know you should listen…just looked at me and said, “Will you just change your major already?”
That was the permission I needed.
Because I had waited so long to make the decision, I couldn’t actually graduate with a theatre emphasis. So I picked a theater minor and a broadcasting emphasis to add to my Communication degree. Broadcasting required that I take film classes and production classes and I started to learn film critique and story and producing and directing…and I was good at a lot of it.
Entering my senior year, I was torn between wanting to act and wanting to be a filmmaker when a professor suggested I go to grad school…which is honestly horrible advice for a 20-year-old that doesn’t know what she wants to do when she gets big. But I didn’t know better, so I went.
I applied as a theatre acting and directing major because that was my heart, but when I got to school my Krebsbach side kicked in again and I opted out of the theatre program and into film to study producing because it seemed business-y and responsible. (Silly now but logical then.)
I studied producing and still acted a lot and got a lot of positive feedback on whatever I did. But I left grad school still not exactly knowing what I wanted to do.
Long story short, I kind of did it all. And I kind of didn’t do it all. I’ve given up on some things and I’ve picked some things back up again. Until this year, I hadn’t acted since 2008, but I find myself back on a stage. I’m learning that everything has its season.
Without me meaning for it to happen, my “original plan” sort of found it’s way into my life too. My brother once laughed at me over the phone as I talked to him about the student I had just had lunch with who was suffering from OCD and anxiety. “You would have made a lot more money doing the same thing if you would have stuck with the psychology major,” he said. “Shut-up-I-know,” I replied.
And I ended up working with abused and neglected kids when I started being a foster mom.
Everything came back around in it’s time.
I encourage my students now (who are right around the same age as I was when I was agonizing over the change of major that was going to alter my life course and possibly be the biggest mistake I had ever made) to go for the things that they want. I tell them that one decision might alter the course of their lives and it might not…but that either way, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I encourage them to try to get into the flow of where life is taking them and see where it leads instead of worrying if choosing between this option or that option will be the one wrong decision that is going to ruin everything.
I’m still better at dispensing that advice than I am at taking it.
I was challenged by a new way of looking at decision making in a blog post that a friend of mine wrote this week. I want to start asking myself, What does your heart say? How do these decisions make you feel? Does thinking about one choice make your heart softer or harder?
I might also add does it make your heart feel bigger or smaller?
My heart felt bigger being on that stage 20 years ago. And the experience made my heart feel softer…and stronger all at the same time. If I had to do it all over again, I’d give myself permission not to agonize over the decision.
I’d say Ditch the plan! Plans hardly ever work out the way you think they’re going to anyway. Follow your heart, embrace the mess and enjoy the ride!