When One Door Closes…

Another one opens, obviously, right?

That’s the sort of common sense advice that we get, and give, all of the time. But, let’s turn that around for a bit – let’s try “when one door opens, another one closes”. Let that sit for a moment because it’s going to take us someplace different.This morning I listened to the December 26th Slate Culture Gabfest podcast, and Stephen Metcalf, Slate’s critic-at-large, answered a listener question about changes in technology negatively impacting culture with this:

“It’s important to acknowledge that there is a real thing called loss. Loss isn’t unreal and maybe there’s even a kind of direction to the grain of American culture that goes against acknowledging and feeling loss as a real thing.”

Julia Turner, Slate’s deputy editor, responded that she saw “loss [as being] irrelevant” and that “for everything that closes, something else opens.” It was interesting clash of opinions and it got me thinking about that common phrase and how that can be visualised.

I came up with this scenario. Imagine that you, as a person, are presented with let’s say 60 doors, and you have 6 that you can open, each representing a various stage in your life. Let’s try these representative questions:

  • Where will I go to college and what will I study?
  • What job will I take?
  • Who will I marry?
  • Will we move to a new location?
  • Will we have kids?
  • When will we retire and will we move again?

Each answer is a door. And while the first question may allow you 10 options, the second becomes 8, and then 6, 4, 2, and ultimately 1. And of course, there are “rabbit holes” (those bonus doors) like going back to get a second degree, winning the lottery, an unexpected death in the family — could be anything, but for our purposes, we’re going to ignore them.

What does a potential run through look like?
One Door Opens

Let’s define a few things: red doors are the ones chosen, blue ones are options, and gray ones are those that have been shut.

So remember our parameters that said 10 choices, 8 choices, etc.? If these doors were actual answers to those questions, it’s feasible to expect that the doors which are options aren’t random but “re-center” based on the selection made.

Therefore, our person, let’s call him Matt, decided to get a degree in computer engineering (let’s call that Door #1 counting from left to right). Door #10 could be a degree in creative writing – doesn’t it make sense that Door #20 (row 2, all the way to the right) which could represent becoming a junior editor at a literary magazine would be closed to him?

For every we choice we make, every door we walk through which opens up new doors for us, it closes off others. We have loss – we have loss in what we can do for work, how much money we could potentially earn, where we could choose to live if we want to leverage what we’ve done before, who could be option for us to meet and marry… Every choice has both gain and loss associated with it.

I agree with Mr. Metcalf — as a society, we don’t like to look at the downsides. They make us uncomfortable. We tell Johnny that he can become an astronaut, but I hope he has perfect vision, he’s willing to join the military, he’s both smart and dedicated and lucky enough to become a pilot – and even when all of that falls into place and more, there has to be a rocket for him to fly, right?

We like to believe that we can spend 15 years in a career, get married, and have children, and then wake up the next day and spend two years getting a post-bac degree to then enter medical school, spend four years doing that, time for internship and residency, and then specialize in transplant surgery.

When you really about it, that’s absurd. It’s not strictly impossible, but it’s hard to take Door #1, Door #11, Door #21, Door #31, Door #41 and somehow finish off going through Door #60. Life doesn’t work that way. Reality doesn’t work that way.

It’s hard to face, but it’s something we need to if we want to make the best choices for our life overall. Who we want to be 10, 20, 30 years down the line starts from the day we’re born and the faster we grasp that the more control we really have.

When one door closes, another one does open, yes. But, the opposite is an even more important truth: for every door we open as we step through the stages of our lives, we close ourselves off, sometimes permanently, to other things.

Let’s not forget that.

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