On Figs, Master of None and the Yearnings of Youth

I recently finished watching Master of None on Netflix – by “watching”, I mean “devouring”. In short, it’s incredible. Go watch it now.

Without giving anything away, the last episode pulls a quote from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, a book I haven’t read since my junior year of college. It goes like this:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

This quote fills me with an unspeakable sense of relief, because it offers proof of one simple truth: Our struggle is universal. Uncertainty about the future and fear of making the wrong decision is not, as it has sometimes been painted recently, a uniquely Millennial experience. It’s a human experience. It was just as applicable in 1963 when this book was published as it is now.

When I first read this book, I don’t think I quite understood it. I was in college, my choices were not life-altering. I was not yet expected to find a job, I was pretty sure I knew who I was and what I wanted (hah), the idea of so much uncertainty seemed unfathomable to me. How could you simply not know what to do next? But now it’s something that has affected every single person I know. We all see the figs in front of us. We all know how lucky we are to have so many figs in the first place, chiding ourselves for wanting more when we already have so much, yet unable to stop itching for it. And in the face of my own fig tree, the only strategy I can think of for moving forward is this:

Choose a fig. Pick the one that’s closest to you, or even the one that’s furthest away if that’s what you prefer. Pick the easiest to reach or the hardest, the biggest or smallest, but pick one. Because the magical thing is that even if you choose wrongly, you can simply cast it aside. Try another one. Try them all if you have to until you find the one that makes you happy. And some figs may already be rotten, or may crumble in your hand. The best ones may take far longer to reach than you realized, or maybe the one you really want was closest to you all along.

The point is that it’s better to fail 1,000 times and make 1,000 wrong decisions than it is to never make a decision at all. The first step in making the right choice is simply this: Make a choice.

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