It’s one of the most frightening passages life confronts us with. What we’ve been doing doesn’t work anymore. We’ve come to a fork in the road. One fork leads to the known. The other one leads to the unknown.
I had spent my entire career working in a family business. My father and my uncle built the business. They passed away, leaving the next generation in charge. My father and uncle expected me and my two cousins to continue where they left off. In theory, my cousins and I had the education and the experience to handle the transition seamlessly. Except we didn’t share a vision for the future, and I frankly couldn’t stand one of my cousins. By the way, I wasn’t alone in my antipathy towards him.
After several futile attempts to carry on as expected, I saw the handwriting on the wall. I did not foresee the business flourishing with the three of us at the helm. I decided to sell my share of the business to my cousins. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make.
Up until this fork in the road, my life had been structured from the outside in. I had done what I was expected to do. Now, it was up to me to structure my life from the inside out.
I had always dreamed of writing fiction. From a solid background in marketing communications, I began writing short stories in my forties. While still employed in the family business, I took online courses in screenwriting at UCLA. I learned the basics of character development, drama and conflict, and plotting. After selling my share of the business, I now had the time and the freedom to initiate the final stage of the process: writing novels.
For starters, it became a very lonely process. I was accustomed to interfacing with all kinds of people in business. Now, except for a few friends, wife, daughter, and mother-in-law, I was completely alone. Doubts and fears constantly assaulted me. I figured real novelists enjoyed their solitude. I kept thinking, real novelists are self sufficient artists. They can take or leave people. All they need are their cats or dogs. Maybe this is true. Maybe not. I haven’t had the chance to sit down with a real novelist to have this conversation. All I know is I’ve managed to write three good screenplays and three good novels since taking the fork in the road that leads to the unknown.
There are certainly ups and downs mucking about in the unknown. I have to say, though, that it’s more interesting and rewarding than steady doses of the known. It’s actually fun to travel back and forth between the worlds of the unknown and the known. (I just have to be careful not to spend too much time stuck in the known).
Let’s take writing this article to illustrate my point. When I began, I only had a vague idea of what it would be about. I did, however, have the definite intention of writing something that would be of interest and benefit to you and me. So, what is my point? Okay, here it is: have the courage to adventure into the unknown and trust the skills you know, deep down, that you have. Nobody gets rich, creates anything meaningful, or finds a deeper source of happiness following the crowd.