In under 12 hours, I will be taking a one-way flight back to California. My bags are packed. My bedroom walls are empty. Someone else will take my place in this apartment as soon as I leave, and as I spend my last night here in New York City, I can't help but ask the question, "Am I making the right decision?"
This question always finds a way to present itself whenever we sum up the courage to make big “life decisions,” such as when we decide to quit our jobs and travel the world or when we decide to end a relationship with a loved one. It always presents itself at the worst possible times, like right now, the night before my departure … “Am I making the right decision?” And it doesn’t stop there because months later, you’ll still be asking yourself, “Did I make the right decision?”
I'm actually writing this post today not because I'm leaving New York City, but because I recently broke up with my girlfriend.
"Am I making the right decision?"
To make life-altering decisions is to also believe that you will be bettering your life in some way, shape or form. Moving away from home is founded on the belief that your destination will bring you more joy, or at least a different type of joy that home was missing. Quitting your job is founded on the belief that you’ll find a better, and hopefully a higher paying job. Ending a relationship with a loved one is founded on the belief that you will find someone else who can bring you more joy ... or at the least, accept you for the shitty person that you really are.
However, hesitation can sometimes be interpreted as a sign that whatever you are pursuing is, in fact, the correct path. Steven Pressfield calls it the "Resistance." Seth Godin calls it the "Lizard Brain." Lynda Barry calls it the "Two Questions." And Greg Miller calls it the "Dragon," which is how I will be explaining this concept.
So what is the Dragon?
The Dragon is basically this gigantic monster that shows up every time you want to do anything new and risky. The Dragon is there to scare you and prevent you from succeeding. The closer you get to following through with your decisions, the stronger and scarier the Dragon becomes. Often times, the Dragon manifests itself in forms of fear, anxiety, stress, confusion, and ultimately, giving up and living a life that's just “good enough.”
I once heard a story of a doctor who, on the brink of death, had to undergo heart transplant surgery. Fortunately for him, his surgery was successful, but there was a caveat. While the arteries and veins can be reconnected after a heart transplant, the nerves cannot. As a result, whenever he felt a certain emotion, he did not feel it coming and was unable to hold back. If he was overcome with an impulse to cry, he would just begin to cry because there was nothing to alert him of the coming tears. He was granted a second chance at life but was no longer capable of suppressing his true emotions.
What is the first thing you do when you're about to cry? You hold back. The Dragon holds it back. When we want to quit our jobs, the Dragon shows up again. When we want to travel the world, the Dragon shows up once again. The Dragon is the ultimate form of fear, and the Dragon is what forces the damn question, "Am I making the right decision?"
In ”The War of Art,” author Steven Pressfield presents a rule of thumb that states: "The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it."
While your fear is not an indication of whether your decisions are right or wrong, it is at least an indication of its importance in your life. So the more fearful you are, the more important you know it is to you. After all, you wouldn't be worrying this much if it wasn't. In this way, the Dragon is not an object of terror that is to be avoided, but an indicator that we are in fact on the right path.
So what's the answer?
I don't know.
That's what makes life decisions so hard to stomach. I don't know if moving away from New York City is the right decision. I don't know if quitting my job and traveling the world is the right decision. I don't know if ending this relationship with my girlfriend is the right decision. I'll never know. We'll never know ... and while we may find comfort in believing that the future will bring more joy from our present decisions, the reality is the future doesn't exist. Planning is just another word for guessing. It is a rather scary thing to think about — that there is no there, there — that in fact, the Dragon may actually be trying to protect us from accidentally wandering off the edge of the Earth with no one to accompany you aside from feelings of being lost, confused, and filled with regret.
At least that's what the Dragon wants us to think.
Maybe the question we should be asking is not "Am I making the right decision?" but "Am I staying true to myself?" The latter creating no possibility to commit the dreadful task of considering the hopes and pitfalls of the future or the past, and allowing us only to consider whether or not our actions correspond with what is important to ourselves. While this approach may not slay the Dragon, it will at least mediate its effect on us. After all, the many obstacles we face are only make-believe, and Dragons don't actually exist.
... but you already knew that.
by Jason Lam