Friday, April 07, 2006

Act 2

I have a friend who is currently facing a sizable decision in life. Not life-altering, but significant nonetheless. Minus any additional details, I'll say that that it involved a relationship. Doesn't it always? So being the helpful friend I am, I provided advice to this person that was practical, rational and completely realistic. It was obvious to me how the situation would end (i.e. in disaster and pain for all parties); therefore, I discouraged this person from proceeding further down this treacherous path. No ambiguity. It was all crystal clear to me. I could foresee impending disaster (as could my friend), so it certainly made good sense to help him/her avoid it. But after carefully advising my friend that there was but one logical way to proceed, I had a startling realization: that I am full of shit and completely void of the qualities I strive to achieve in life. This is all a bit vague, I know. Bare with me here. So upon recognizing the hypocrisy of my advice, I abruptly made a dramatic 180-degree turn and offered my friend new and conflicting advice. Pretty much the polar opposite of what I had so confidently told him/her in prior conversations. I said this...
To use a screenwriting analogy, everyone comes to many 1st-act breaks throughout their life. By this I mean, a key moment of decision will be seemingly put upon us much like a hero in a film. This moment is significant enough that what is decided will lead us down very different paths. To simplify things, let's say you have only two paths, two options. Everybody can relate to that...the whole 'fork-in-the-road' scenario. One option is to turn away from this tough decision and take the easy way out, perhaps due to fear, anxiety or simply good-ol' rational logic. We could be talking relationships, careers, anything really. And this is what we all choose probably 97% of the time. It makes sense, right? No one gets hurt. Risk is minimized. Insurance premiums are lowered.

Returning to the screenplay analogy, if a hero in a film were to take this route at the end of Act 1, there would simply be no Act 2. Who would want to watch that? The film would end, the curtains would close, the show would be over. And that is what we do most of our lives, we face the 1st-act break dead-on and turn away, ending the story right there. I'd venture to say that a majority of people live their entire lives without ever having a 2nd act. But what makes movies and stories so appealing to us rational folk is that we are able to live through a character who makes the tough decision, the often irrational choice and dives into the 2nd act that is both unknown and frightening.

So that's it. That is what I told my friend to do, to just fuck it and leap head-first into Act 2. It may end up in disaster, we already acknowledge that. But he/she may also end up much better off than where they began (see diagram). Now just like nearly everyone else in the real world, when I face a 1st-act break, I usually turn the other way. It kills me, though. It is usually fear alone that stands in my way and I wish terribly I had courage to overcome it. That's a real goal of mine. But in any case, I don't always practice what I preach. But damnit, if I am going to give advice to a close friend, I don't want to be the one to encourage the easy way out, especially when it could mean passing up something incredible, something worth experiencing even if it ends up in pain and suffering. I have to believe Act 2 is worth it on its own. So we'll see. It is all very romantic and exciting to consider, however, doing it is another story. But I gave my friend this advice, and I'm sticking to it.

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