When I was a kid, my favorite books were the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series. In fact, they were really the only books that I liked to read.
I would read every book that I could get my hands on. I took out every copy I could find from both my school library and the public library. They were the only books that I can remember truly loving when I was a kid.
I recently came across some of these book in a second hand book store (the picture above). For those of you unfamiliar with this series, the books are written in the second person, and the protagonist—that is, the reader—takes on a role relevant to the adventure. The stories play out so that, after a couple of pages of reading, the reader faces two or three options, each of which leads to more options, and then to one of many endings (the number of endings in each book varies depending on the book).
These books led to hours of discovery and adventure for me as a kid, and because of the way the books were written I could re-read a book several times, and still have a different ending and experience, based on the choices that I made. I loved how my choices had consequences. I wasn’t scared of the consequences; In fact I loved the adventure of uncertainty. I would often daydream of having my own life adventures as well, and the bounty of choice that was in front of me. Choice was exciting, uncertainty was adventure.
Although I stopped reading the books as I grew older, this mindset – that I could “choose my own adventure” in life stayed with me throughout college, and even into law school, and in my first job after law school. Things were new, and exciting, and I didn’t know how the outcome was going to play out.
After a couple of years of being a lawyer I hit a very dark place in my life, and for the first time I experienced real depression and anxiety. I wrote about my depression and anxiety attacks at length in my book Unsuited. For me, being open about my depression has been a fundamental component of my becoming empowered, and recovering from the dark place I found myself in during those years. I’m not ashamed of this period. It was a sickness, that took hold me, why should I be ashamed of it? In fact, I think about it often – not quite daily – but enough not to forget it. I never want to feel again, in my entire life, how I felt during those dark years.
Yesterday for some reason I was thinking about the dark years, and at the same time I was thinking about the “Choose Your Own Adventure Books” (oddly enough – and there is a connection, keep reading).
I realized that the darkest moments of my life, the moments of grim depression that gripped me, were also the moments when I didn’t believe that I had the power to choose my own adventure anymore.
I felt stuck. I felt trapped by the demands of a career that wasn’t fulfilling. I felt trapped by the 9-5, the bills, the mortgage, the commitments – life itself. This is something that I think (in fact I know) that many other people share – the anxiety associated with the transition from being a child to being a responsible adult – where the excitement of the adventure is seen an immature. We need to “grow up” we are told. We need to “get a real job”. We need to “buy a house”. We need to….
What I’ve since discovered is that we don’t need to do anything. We still get to choose. We never lost that ability. Perhaps for a moment the crowd hypnotized us, but we have always had the power to go a different way.
Life is most fulfilling when it is a daring adventure, and the one thing that no one – no boss, no law firm partner, and no institution – can ever take away from us is our ability to choose. Just like in those books. Every day presents itself to me with several choices to make. I alone get to make them. Now granted, I alone have to accept the responsibility of my choices, but I’m never trapped.
I’m never trapped in a job
I’m never trapped on a dead end
At any moment I can change, I am the protagonist.
It is such an amazing feeling when you embrace this concept – that you are the hero of your story. You are the protagonist. You get to choose every outcome.
For me, this discovery was at the heart of my coming out of depression – the idea that no one had power over me.
I can’t speak for anyone on the subject of depression. I’m neither qualified, nor do I believe that there is a one-size-fits-all remedy. It’s too complex.
But I can just say, that if there is anyone that reads my blog that struggles, or has struggled, with depression it helped me tremendously to take control back of my choices, and realize that forever, I am the protagonist – that I get to choose my own adventure, no matter what.