In my twenties, I had a bad habit of severely undervaluing flexibility. Every day I woke up trying to answer the questions, who are you and what do you do? It seemed important to know. It seemed obvious that an answer would lead to success. So every time I went after a new project, a new show, a new class, I would put all of my proverbial eggs in my one proverbial basket and breathe a sigh of relief that I had finally figured out my conundrum of Self. My rigid, unbending, black and white Self.
Every time one of those projects didn't work out as well as I had hoped, or I didn't book the job I thought for sure would put the kibosh on my feelings of self-doubt, or a class ended and I felt just as adrift as ever, it was a big existential crash. Down the rabbit hole of discontent and frustration I flew. I had pinned my hopes to these finite answers, believing each one was salvation.
Because I decided what I was "supposed to" get out of each experience before it even happened, I missed the value of trying and failing. I spent a decade thinking I was making one right move after another to no avail, but completely ignoring the fact that when things weren't working out it was because I wasn't being flexible enough to roll with it. I remained oblivious to my own agency. I don't play a chess, but if I did the analogy might go like this: I saw myself as the pieces on the chessboard, not the player. I saw myself as manipulated by outside forces as I agonized my way to the other side. I didn't absorb the fact that I was the one in charge of my strategy.
It's difficult to understand your strategy when you're in the middle of it. Was I trying to get to Broadway during my twenties? Yes, pretty much. But in hindsight, the value in that strategy wasn't ultimately about landing on the Great White Way. It was about defining what kind of artist I wanted to be. I thought for a long time that I wanted commercial success. Sometimes I still do think that, but more often than not the thought that makes me heart settle down and my enthusiasm bubble up is of living a life built on my own creative autonomy with little to do with commercial profitability and everything to do with what I think there should be more of in the world.
The most flexible thing I have ever done has been to acknowledge that my mid-20s hustle was a means to a different end than previously expected. I'm not saying that I don't want to stand on that midtown stage and tell a story that brings people to their feet, but I know if I get there it will be part of a bigger strategy aimed at a bigger destination - to tell better stories, to more authentically define myself as an artist, and to bask in the intrinsic excitement of real presence. Commercial success is not the end all, it's a piece to the puzzle. It's a move I would make for an altogether different purpose now.
Flexibility is shaking off expectations. Flexibility is knowing not everything we do has to be our best for it to be valuable. Flexibility is taking failure as a step forward. Flexibility is being able to change direction. Flexibility is favoring evolution over rigidity.
When I consider how much flexibility I lacked in all those years of trying to answer the boring question of what do you do?, I can look at my immediate life and see a better strategy. That gnawing question will still come up, but now I understand that the answer is irrelevant. Because allowing our choices to have more flexibility, allowing our destinations to shift, allowing ourselves to follow instinct instead of groupthink will produce, I'm convinced, something even better than we could have ever planned.