Throwing Your Life Away

“How could you let him throw his life away?” my neighbor asked. She was speaking of my son, who had recently announced he wanted to major in music, to switch from math and Russian.

“He could be an engineer or a lawyer, something important, but you are letting him major in music? How do you feel about wasting all that money?” My mother asked. “You are letting him throw his life away. Just like you did!” The anger in her voice was hard and sharp.

Your path is always there, waiting for you.

Maybe you’ve heard that phrase, too–“Throwing your life away.” It sounds dangerous, stupid, harmful. In my son’s case, and earlier, my case, it was what saved our lives.

My son had chosen a path that he had been encouraged to follow. Gifted in math and languages, majoring in them seemed like a good idea. But his love of music emerged when he was in high school, and he wanted to spend his life with the intricacies of melody. I knew from personal experience that unless you follow the path that beckons, the journey will be rocky, harsh, and may well lead you into a personal, barren wilderness.

So when he told me he was interested in music, I was pleased. It was good to know so clearly the path you wanted to follow. He turned in that direction. He threw away many possibilities–the wrong ones. The ones that would have left him unsatisfied, a drone at his work, uninspired. So many mothers told me that he could always have music as a hobby. It sounded like an echo from my childhood. What I had wanted was not important, I had been told. I was a child, and the ways of the world were harsh. I could do art and writing as a hobby.

Times were different then, and obedience to parents’ wishes was part of a good daughter’s life. Art and writing were a hobby, and I blundered down the path of success as my parents saw it for me. It was years till I could “throw my life away,” shed the burden of “should” and “hobby” and create the life I wanted. It was hard, but ahead of me was the steady light of life’s purpose, a sure knowledge that writing and art were where meaning lay.

So when my son knew early that his path was music, I was happy that he was throwing his life away early. The life of someone else’s expectations, of success, of bent and hobbled dreams. He’s doing well in his life, he is bright, has good friends, does satisfying work, makes meaning. What he threw away was a life defined by other peoples idea of success. What he found was his own success. (Oh, incidentally, he’s a success by anyone’s measure, including his mother’s pride.)

It took me longer to throw my life away. I wasn’t as sure of my own mind, my own direction. The compass was there, but I wasn’t as sure in my choices. I didn’t believe in myself as much as I believed that my parents knew best. When I figured out that their advice fit their lives and I would have to find my own path, I threw my old life away, too. And am happier for it.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. As a life and creativity coach, she helps others discover their life’s purpose, hard as it may be.

18 thoughts on “Throwing Your Life Away

  1. I can recall reading this and think . . . thank goodness for my granddaughter’s creative parents! She’s a born artist and will be very unhappy if she doesn’t create every day as she does now. As for me? Well I’m nearing a time when I can retire/resign from paid work. I wasn’t brave enough earlier to take the plunge. I had too many responsibilities, did not have the role models, the encouragement . . . not necessarily from others but from myself. I did not have a clear picture of an alternative life in my head and I was battling too many other demons however forgiveness of myself is complete. What’s more I know it’s never too late.

    I’d give you a hug if you were here.

  2. What a wonderful post. I picture the people I know you have touched with your art, writing, and creativity in general. Maybe that you finally took the step and being happy was the example your son needed. What a lucky man to have a mom who understands.

  3. Life takes amazing turns when you follow the road that is authentic for you.

    So glad you walk your true road, the creative road–you are an inspiration to others who look at their road and wonder “Should I really…?”

    • Thanks, Bo, that means a lot to me. I just hope that everyone knows that the creative road I travel is dusty, and has chollas throwing thorns out, and it’s not always fun to walk. But there i a deep satisfaction on this road, too.

  4. What a wonderful story! Your son has a much happier and fulfilling journey ahead of him and he’s already a success just making a monumental decision like this. And what an incredible attitude you have Quinn…loving, supportive and encouraging.

    I had a great job that I really enjoyed and learned a lot but when I moved to Arizona, I wanted and needed to simplify my life and reduce stress. I’ve been bouncing around for a few years but am now an aspiring artist and am thoroughly enjoying the process and the experience. I feel peaceful when I’m making art…that says everything. I have lots of plans for how I want to give back to the community with art, which will be the ultimate fulfillment.

    It’s such a pleasure reading your blog and knowing you Quinn!

    • Ahhh, Traci, you have found the real secret to life–defining your own success. The bouncing can be hard, can’t it? I sure bounced hard a few times, and I suspect I will again. But it’s much better than that job I used to have, the one that made me sick every Sunday night. And as I said to someone else, I’m still learning to be a good mother–and my son has been on his own a long time!

  5. I relate to this, on all counts. Being told that I would be a “starving artist” and writer when starting out, I chose other paths and am now resurfacing in my true (though somewhat more wrinkled) skin. I was thrilled when my oldest followed his heart and graduated with a BFA.

    Good post.


  6. Beautiful. I just wrote about my mother telling me that I was too “self-interested” and quickly figured out that she was really thinking of her own life and how much she enjoyed the part in which she let herself be true to her inner wishes. I’m so glad that I was able to figure it out fairly early that success doesn’t equal money.

  7. What a smart lady you are. It has taken me way too long to develop what was my way. I have been laughed at, made fun of and numerous other ways to discourage me. Thank you for your thoughts

  8. Amazing — Finding ourselves means to stop worrying about
    other people’s expectations, but its hard. Bravo to your son.
    “Desperately seeking approval” can kill us, in spirit. I feel
    sure it is at the root of many harmful addictions – the frustration
    has to go somewhere.

  9. Oh how your post hits MY nail on the head! I’ve been miserable most of my life because I let others tell me what I was “supposed” to do. My sister, a very talented artist, suffered the same. Now she does no art at all.
    Thank you for being a GREAT mother!

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