Fiction  •  September 15, 2002

What to Do with Your Life

I had lunch with John at a popular Italian restaurant in New York. We got a table for two by a window looking out to the street. As soon as we sat down, he asked me how I was doing. I told him I was a bit depressed. He asked me why.
I replied, “I don’t know.”
He said, “I know why you are depressed. Because you don’t know what you want to do with your life.”
“You think?” I asked.
“Definitely. You want to know what you want to do with your life. I can tell you what you want to do with your life.”
“OK, what do I want to do with my life?”
“You want to know what you want to do with your life,” replied John.
Then there was a pause.
“Well?” I asked.
“Well, what?” John asked.
“Well, what do I want to do with my life?”
“I told you, you want to know what you want to do with your life.”
“OK, I got you,” I said, even though I didn’t get him.
“I can tell you how to find out what you want to do with your life yourself,” said John.
“OK, tell me.”
“See this restaurant? How noisy it is? People who don’t know what they want to do with their lives are like this restaurant in their heads. Very noisy. All kinds of noise going on. And, somewhere in this restaurant is a little girl, I mean it metaphorically, you know, a little girl who is trying to tell you what you want to do with your life.”
“Yeah?”
“Yeah, but you can’t hear her because of all this noise. So, what you do is, you go home and do nothing. Sit in your couch, stare at the wall. I mean, for a loooong time. Maybe like a week or more.”
“Can I eat and sleep?”
“Sure, but don’t feast or nothing. You try to do as little as possible so that the noise level will settle down.”
“It will?”
“Yeah, for most people. It might not work for you, but I think it will. The idea is that the little girl is the real voice of your passion. Since she is for real, she doesn’t quiet down. With the noise level down, you can finally hear what she has to say.”
“Have you done this yourself?” I asked.
“Sure. About 5 years ago. It took me three months.”
“You mean, three months of doing nothing?”
“Yeah.”
“That must’ve been hard.”
“Yeah, it was. My head was so noisy, it took me 2 months to be able to hear her voice, but even then, I still couldn’t understand what she was saying. So, it took another month before it was quiet enough to understand her clearly.”
“So, what did she tell you?”
“She said, ‘What you want to do with your life is that you want to find out what you want to do with your life.’”
Then we were silent for a while.
I said, “OK, I got it,” even though I didn’t.