Second only to the Beverly Cleary books about Ramona and her sister Beezus, the Choose Your Own Adventure books were my favorites growing up.
In these books, readers were invited to participate directly in the story of the protagonist. We would meet her friends and family, explore her world, discover her hopes and fears, and, when she reached a crossroads, we readers got to choose on behalf of the protagonist which path she’d take. For example:
If you want to try to dialogue with the swamp monster, turn to page 39. If you’d rather try to fight your way past it, turn to page 51.
I read and re-read these books until I had fleshed out every last opportunity, path, and lesson available inside those tiny books. While I wouldn’t have known so at the time, these books, so cleverly designed as children’s books, nourished my soul.
In my life as a child reader, I was insatiably curious, adventurous, and constantly on the lookout for surprises and lessons. I embraced the idea of repeated new beginnings and accepted the truth that endings were not always tidy, and certainly not always happy. It was as it should be. The protagonist led an adventure-filled life.
In my human life as a young student, however, I slowly learned what most children learn: how to put these very things—my curiosity, my love of adventure and new beginnings—behind me. I understood that it was time to grow up and be “responsible,” a word intended to invoke shame and guilt on anyone who would dare stray from a common, known, or understood path. I began to believe that life is a race and a competition, and that children’s books are for children, not for ambitious success-seekers like me.
I was learning—not often through words, but through real-life models, television, and movies—that I was to choose a path and stick to it. That it was time to decide who I wanted to be, set my feet firmly upon that path, hold my eyes straight and steady ahead of me, and keep my motives and direction unchallenged by anyone, especially myself.
But this is not how things worked out for me. In the past decade alone, I have left my work as a long-time yoga teacher, then spent several years studying and offering my work as an Ayurvedic practitioner before leaving that world, too. Both of these paths required the investment of study, time, heart, and money. Both of these paths introduced me to incredible people, teachers, and philosophies. Both of these paths are behind me now.
Walking away from worlds in which I already knew how to speak the language, where I understood the dress and behavior codes, where I knew the names to know, might have seemed illogical, even irresponsible, through the eyes of an outsider. But these roles, which had initially given me freedom to explore more of Who I Am, began to pinch and constrain me. What had been right for me for many years was suddenly wrong for me. I needed to break free.
Once I felt this reality, the logical side of me demanded to know:
Had it been a waste of time and money?
Was I was wrong to have stepped into this role in the first place, or, in harsher language, did I lie to myself that this was what I wanted?
Was my love and embrace of this role never truly authentic, or, in harsher language, did I lie to others that this was who I was?
Was I a lie?
Was I a failure?
Perhaps, from the lens of the ego, regularly shifting in and out of roles and titles would be seen as set-backs or misunderstandings at best; lies, hypocrisies, or even failures at worst. The ego might not like us to talk about the times we tried something which, for whatever reason, we didn’t see through to a neat and satisfying closure. The ego might not want us to peel ourselves away from something (or someone) that gave us pleasure, support, meaning, or purpose. But our soul needs what our soul needs, and sometimes, it needs us to walk away. It’s not always logical. However, for the part of us that wants logic, this may satisfy:
Every system, community, job, role, or identity that can be entered or worn in the Earth realm, including those that are primarily concerned with expanding our consciousness, eventually can limit and stall the growth of our consciousness. This is true, not because the systems or roles are bad, but because they are built in the Earth realm; the limitations are inherent in their birthplace. The Earth Realm is our soul’s playground, where we came to learn, grow, and create, and if moving from one role to the next is how we do that, then that is our path.
I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. But I no longer care about finding that perfect fit. I no longer see my exploratory way of life as a frustration, or even a personality quirk, but as a hallmark of my life. If I have to decide, then the chameleon is who I am.
Seeing my life as an adventure means that I am now, and shall always be, ready to sign up to try new things I know nothing at all about. It means I can explore new paths with the curiosity of a child, rather than the set-in-my-ways mindset of a typical grown-up. It means I can choose to begin at the beginning, again and again, without judgment.