My wife absolutely loves Mindy Kaling, a writer, actress, and comedian. I say “loves” charitably, because writing “is obsessed with” seems a little creepy. So in 2014, before we were married, I bought her first book, entitled Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). I’m not entirely sure what I expected from it, but I have to say, it was most excellent.
The title comes from the climactic moment in the book, where high-school Mindy has started hanging out with a friend who was interested in growing in her artistic talent and vision, as Mindy was. They’re at the mall, shopping for something arts related, and they see Mindy’s old posse hanging out and chatting. Mindy feels a gut-wrenching tug, recognizing that the four of them were once an inseparable group and now she’s broken off and gone her own way. She made the intentional choice to pursue personal growth and follow her dream rather than stay with the fun and comfortable.
This story impacted me significantly, and six years later I still think about it often. It’s such a poignant depiction of the reality that sometimes in order to say “yes” to one thing, it is necessary to say “no” to another. Not that there’s anything wrong with that thing! It’s just a thing you’ve chosen to push out of your life in order to make room for your dreams.
Over the years, I’ve had to say “no” to a few things. I used to follow college football pretty deeply, especially Virginia Tech. I even paid a ridiculous amount of money every month for cable TV specifically so I could watch college football games. Eventually, though, I recognized that I had to make a choice between following the sport or actively pursuing my interests and passions, and I chose the latter.
For a long time, I really enjoyed video games. My interests were a bit niche, but I still invested plenty of time and money into the hobby. But again, I found myself struggling with balance in my life and ended up having to make a choice. I decided that I’m not actually a gamer. Lately, I’ve found myself very tempted to buy a Nintendo Switch, because it seems like there’s a lot of really fun games on that platform. Maybe one day I will. But when I considered how I would spend my extra time at home during isolation, I decided that rather than buying a video game console I would start a blog and write every day. I don’t blame or look down on those who made the other choice (and a co-worker told me that it’s basically impossible to buy a Switch these days, so apparently plenty of people chose differently), but that was my choice.
I’m no expert, and I have not reached any particularly advanced stage of enlightenment. But sometimes when I have to make decisions in my life about which way to go, I remember Mindy Kaling looking at her old clique and feeling the gut-wrenching feeling of “I should be there, with them”. And I remember her denying that feeling and continuing down the escalator to pursue her dreams.