Reflection: Am I enough?
Last week I had the chance to catch up with Myriam Steinberg to find out how she has been doing since we last spoke in Episode 1 (Catalogue Baby).
I’m fascinated by the way people make life-changing decisions. When I look back on my own life-changing decisions, the in-the-moment deliberations were excruciating. I was trying to predict the future. I was trying to imagine how the choice I was making would lead me to the kind of life I wanted. I was trying to figure out whether my impulses were being guided by other people’s expectations, or by my own desires.
And of course on this show I’ve been grappling with the decision to have a child of my own. I’ve been trying to project into the future, to imagine what my life might look like. What I might be missing.
And as I’ve said many times, I know that it’s impossible to try to figure out what it would be like to have a child of my own by speaking to other women about it. I can ask mothers about their experiences - and I have - but that won’t ever shed light on what it will be like FOR ME to have a child of my own. And it won’t help me predict how having a child might change me, change what I believe, change what I care about. All of this is impossible to know unless and until I experience it for myself.
And so it creates a strange and uncomfortable Catch-22. One that I think is pretty common for anyone grappling with an life-changing decision. I won’t know what it’s like until I experience it. So how do I decide if I want to experience it if I can’t possibly know what it’s like?
The philosopher and Yale Professor L.A. Paul argues in her book, Personal Transformation, that it’s impossible to make a rational and informed decision about a life-changing experience like having a child. It’s impossible because the tools that we use to help us make rational, informed decisions - asking others about their experiences, making pro and con lists, imagining the future - aren’t useful. Life-changing experiences are deeply personal and unpredictable. There’s no way to know what the experience will be like for you, how an experience will change you and how it will change what matters to you. And knowing what it’s like for someone else isn’t going to help. So one of the biggest, most important decisions of your life can’t be made rationally.
Of course it can’t.
Every transformative decision I’ve ever made has come down to instinct, faith, and a little bit of magic.
But it has always taken me an agonizingly long time to get there. I always start out on the rational route, carefully weighing my options, and then eventually I realize that coming to a rational decision is never going to work. And then I leap in the direction that my instinct tells me to.
But perhaps I wouldn’t have agonized over these decisions for so long if I’d asked myself better questions. Professor Paul suggests looking at a transformative decision differently:
You don’t choose the experience based on what you think it will be like. You choose the experience to discover who you’ll become.
In other words, you’re not choosing to become a mother or not to become a mother because you know what it will be like. You’re choosing because you want to discover who you’ll become. You decide whether you want to discover how your life will unfold if you have the experience.
In last week’s episode I asked Myriam to share the last few pages of her graphic novel. The ending beautifully captures the leap she’s making into this life-changing decision. She has chosen to become a single mother, and now she’s carrying twins. Myriam has chosen to discover who she’ll become by raising these little ones. And in the final pages of her book she wonders, out loud, whether she’s capable of becoming the kind of person she needs to be. She hopes that she is enough.
From an outsider’s perspective I think the answer is pretty obvious - but I understand why she’s asking.
I think at the heart of any transformative decision is that very question - Am I Enough? Can I handle what comes next? Do I have what it takes?
The question lingers even after we’ve decided. Which is why life-changing decisions take so much courage. We need to live with the question, and the answer.
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