Throw Your Life Away

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

Dreams in ink. Marker, acrylic paint skin, paint on paper.

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

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.

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 my son told me he was interested in music, I was pleased. It was good he could see so clearly the path he wanted to follow.

He threw away many possibilities–all the ones that were wrong for him. The ones that would have left him unsatisfied, a drone at his work, uninspired. The ones that would have weighed like stones in the pockets of his dreams.

Years earlier, I blundered down the path of success as my parents saw it for me. It was years till I could “throw my life away,” 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 was where meaning-making lived.

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 creativity coach who helps people through change and re-invention. She is the author of Raw Art Journaling.

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30 thoughts on “Throw Your Life Away

  1. I love how you reframe the phrase “throwing your life away”…so you could create the life you wanted. Oh, the negativity and pressure so many parents put on their children. In that, at least, I am cautious!

  2. Quinn, you are so right! Everyone needs to listen to that little voice within that guides them down the right path, well in most cases it does. My parents had dreams of my becoming a teacher or something that would require me to head off to university. My inner self said otherwise and I trained to be a floral designer. I had never taken any art courses and making my way through colour theory, design techniques and so on was all new to me. It took a lot of concentration to become proficient as a designer, but I loved it. It wasn’t until a few years ago that painting and all things art related captured my attention, heart and soul. Anything visual appeals to me and so I dabble in many different art forms. Being retired allows me that freedom, but I often think back to that nervous gal in her late teens who decided that university was not for her. That gal took risks and danced to the music in her head instead of following the path others had set out for her. I really like that person and I need to be more like her right now. I need to recognize that following my dreams and letting the creative person inside come out to play is not a bad thing to do. Who said that middle aged women need to dress a certain way, read only the books chosen by the book club, and be ever so proper? I drink my coffee/tea out of a mug, not a china cup and books, magazines, art supplies that are heading to the studio do cover other flat surfaces, being a proper housekeeper isn’t what I se out to be. I get distracted reading one of my magazines or by online blogs, tutorials or e-mails and wonder how my life might have been different had the computer age happened way back when I was a teenager. I know my parents wanted what they thought would be the best life for me. It just seems that what they thought and what I needed turned out to be different. I love them for giving me guidance, but even more for stepping aside to let me spread my wings. At this stage of my life, it seems that I’ve spread my wings even more and I’m enjoying a fuller life. Your son is so lucky to have your encouragement! And, the rest of us are lucky to read and enjoy all that you do. Personally, I feel inspired with each post that I read. Thank you!

  3. I hope I remember to let my children “throw their lives away” when the time comes (if I have any choice!?). I suspect my law degree will remind me to encourage them to follow their heart, not what they think they should do.

  4. My mom was 40 (I was 10) when she finally started her anthropologie degree. My grandfather didn´t think it was a “ladies” path. He had no problems with one of his daughters being an artist (he was a musician himself, aunt Claudia studied Art) and the oldest girl had no problems with him thinking whatever he wanted and she did as she pleased (she is an accountant). Mom (youngest girl, middle child out of eight) could only summon the courage after his passing away.

  5. One of the things I love about you blog Quinn, are the eloquent replies, I always come back and read them. I’m another who managed to sqeeze in a little of what I wanted to do but did something else – which I don’t regret for a moment because teaching in primary/elementary schools is endlessly creative.
    On my blog yesterday, I nailed my colours to the mast, I WILL have a life full of art in one form or other, late start and all I hope Leone and Ellen take heart and start too!
    You son is to be applauded, a standing ovation!

  6. I just watched an interview with Caroline Myss where she said every decision consists of two choices: 1. to honor our Soul’s path; 2. to hurt ourselves. (I’m paraphrasing). I am so glad you mothered in a way to honor your son’s Soul and have done the same for yourself. Rock on!

  7. I watched a recent interview with Caroline Myss who said with every choice we make we are deciding to be true to ourselves (Soul) or harm ourself. I am grateful for mothers like you, and glad we live in a time where the new generation doesn’t live by “suppose to’s.”

  8. FABULOUS!!! Just wonderful – thank you for writing this!! I wasn’t allowed to study art in college because it wasn’t a “viable” career choice based on my parents’ assessment. I, too, listened to my parents – but all their admonitions only postponed my inevitable tumble into the visual arts. Today I run my own studio and am proud to be supporting my family with my art.

    And I, too, have a son who wants to study music – he dreams of being a symphonic musician. His father and I embrace and support his choice despite the vehement objections of our extended family – he may not make as much money as a doctor or lawyer, but he will have passion for his career and touch the lives of countless others with the joy of hearing and playing and learning about music.

    Nothing compares to following YOUR OWN path. Hooray for your son for finding his and kudos to you for supporting him!

  9. Finding one’s own life — which is different from every other person’s life — is one of life’s high points. It may be the most challenging and difficult path one could choose, but the path through the wilderness following one’s true path — it is filled with wonder and bliss, too

  10. Quinn, this is one of your most poetic essays and it hits me where I live, so thank you! Those cutting allusions to our “failures” to live up others’ ideas of us make it even harder to believe in ourselves. At a networkign event that I hosted, someone looked at me askance and said incredulously, “You call yourself a COPYEDITOR?!?” He is all about branding himself–and presenting himself to the world as–a high-level publishing consultant. I replied calmly, “People can call me anything they like, as long as I get to do work I like and they pay me my going rate.” My favorite riff in your essay: “He threw away many possibilities–all the ones that were wrong for him. The ones that would have left him unsatisfied, a drone at his work, uninspired. The ones that would have weighed like stones in the pockets of his dreams.”

    • Thanks, Linda. I’ll talk to an experienced copy editor long before I talk to a “guru” or self-described genius. I’m so pleased you like that sentence. It means so much to be recognized by a professional copyeditor.

  11. Actually I can name an engineer and a lawyer, but I get your point in spades. There is a Don Williams’ song I think that says, It’s my life, Throw it away if I want to….The context is a bit different, but the idea is the same.

    Quinn, you always come up with such thought provoking ideas to write about! BTW I did order your friend SARK’s posters. They are way cool. I’m going to give some of them to my granddaughters and post some in the children’s area at our church.

    • Thanks for hanging out at my blog. Full disclosure–I have been to one of SARK’s workshops. I neither know her personally nor could I ever claim to be her friend. We are very different people with very different approaches to life and creativity.

  12. Again, you have said so clearly. I was denied a university education when I was in my teens – I wanted to be a teacher. I dutifully got married and had a family and although I loved being a wife and mother I always felt like something was missing (me?). I was so far off the path of following my heart that I am still lost and searching at 72. Your son is so lucky to have a mother who knows the importance of following your heart. It is not so easy to find it again once it has been abandoned.

    • I will be 65 in two weeks – just got my Medicare card – trauma time. I fought my mother and did eventually get my degree in geophysics, but I ended up teaching high school but now feel like I am standing at the edge of a cliff because suddenly time is now “limited”, and I am, too, searching. Maybe I need to sit still and let it find me. Good luck.

  13. Pick any random person and ask them to start naming musicians — not ones they know, musicians whose compositions or performances they’ve enjoyed. Wait through the first few dozen. Then ask them to name a single lawyer or engineer — from ANY era in human history.

    Now,which profession was unimportant, again?

    • Well, what we remember is not always greatness. I’ll bet if I ask a random person to name TV shows they love and then books they love, I’ll hear the titles of a lot more TV reality shows than literature.

      • Maybe so; my point — perhaps not clearly expressed — was that there are different ways to assess importance. Greatness, I think, is something else entirely.

        • You are right, there are many different ways to assess and define success, importance, art, greatness, genius, and goodness. Scalpel-thin differences, big broad-stroke ones.

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