Sidney Howard is credited with saying “One-half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must give up before you get it.” For years I’ve told people “You usually have to give up something to get something.”
One of the students attending a writers’ workshop I teach at the Oro Valley library is a high school student. He and a friend are writing a novel.
After a recent class I asked him, “Do you think you will have this published for our Nov. 10 book-signing event at the library?”
He looked astonished. “No,” he said, “I just don’t have the time to write.”
He knew what response he would hear.
“Baloney,” I said, “you make time. Do you watch television?”
“Are you on the football team?”
“What time do you get up?”
“Six in the morning.”
Persisting, I asked, “What time do you go to bed?”
“Listen,” he said, “I know what you think about making the time, but if I’m writing I don’t have time to read.”
Aha! That’s when I said, “Take a lesson from an older person. You usually have to give up something to get something. Forget reading for now; concentrate on writing. You just told me you’d like to someday make a living by writing. If you complete your first novel when you’re 15 years old, think of how much you can accomplish.”
Grinning, he said, “Thank you. I really appreciate your time.”
And off he went.
Some obvious things to give up are desserts if you want to shed pounds. Starting a new career sometimes entails walking away from a mediocre but secure job. Moving to a new city for better climate or health reasons means forsaking friends, favorite restaurants and family members you spend time with.
Rationing your time to serve the homeless on Thanksgiving makes you feel compassionate and kind. What about donating two years of your life to join the Peace Corps?
The reverse is true, too. A good friend left her family in California to become an actress in New York. Success on the stage didn’t mean enough to live far away from the family she loved. Returning to California, she became a teacher and never looked back.
The most difficult things to give up are fraught with emotional pain. Leaving a person who loves you because you no longer love them causes grief. Refusing to continue helping a child financially who is addicted to drugs makes parents feel callous. Ending a love affair to protect the people who depend on you can cause great sorrow. These are the decisions that break your heart and soul.
The tricky part, as Mr. Howard states, is knowing what you will get when you give up something. Will you wind up with peace of mind? Will you be content with the result? Years later will you believe you made the appropriate choice or have regrets?
Determining the right action to take, especially if you are pursuing your own happiness, is complicated. All of us are self-obsessed, but where do we draw the line?
This question has haunted me all my life.