Do What You Can’t Not Do

A couple of weeks ago I put the baby to bed, left my husband downstairs playing the latest Assassin’s Creed game, and snuggled up in my bed with a bag of chips to watch Cloud Atlas. Less than ten minutes into the movie I put the chips away because there was so much dialogue – and some of it difficult to catch –  that I wanted to make sure I was hearing everything properly. The movie is an aquired taste, I think (and the reviews I read on the book afterward would have me come to the same conclusion) but personally, I enjoyed it. Yes, I enjoyed it in an “oh my god this is interesting but my head hurts” kind of way.

But this post isn’t about the movie or the book (which I would like to read someday when I get a chance). No, this post is actually about one particular line from the movie (and presumably the book) that really struck a chord with me. The quote in question was spoken by one character while trying to convince another to help her expose a huge corporation of evil deeds when doing so was sure to ruin his career and possibly his life.

The quote was this: “You have to do whatever it is that you can’t not do.”

This turn of phrase gave me pause, and I found myself thinking about it several more times throughout the course of the movie. As soon as the movie was over I grabbed my phone and wrote myself a memo: “Talk about this quote on blog.”

The reason I wanted to write a blog post dedicated to this quote isn’t just because I think it was a neat saying. I wanted to share this quote because I think it exemplifies very well exactly what is wrong with so many people’s lives these days. That is, we’re all not doing the things that we can’t not do.

By “can’t not do” I of course mean the things that define us, the things that make us who we are, the things that give us joy and pleasure in our lives. I’m talking about the things we’ve always dreamed of doing, the things we always saw ourselves doing, and the things we’ve neglected to do for any number of reasons (finances, fear, discouragement, etc). I’m talking about the things that people think of on their deathbeds and wish they’d had the courage to just do, because now they regret not doing them.

Obviously it’s not always just as simple as doing something because you want to, but consider how many people give up what makes them happy because it’s easier to give up than to work for it. Young adults give up on their childhood dream jobs because they don’t know how to go about them, or because they’re afraid they don’t have the skill, or because they’re discouraged by over-critical parents or teachers who tell them it’s just not going to happen. Parent’s give up the hobbies that they love because it takes money away from the family, or takes time away from the children, or because their peers convince them that such things are for children. Employers of every type give up everything from their personal time to their dignity because it’s what the boss says they have to do. People of every age, race, religion, gender, and social class give up things they love and cherish because some outside stimulus tells them they should. Sometimes that outside stimulus outright demands that you give up what you love.

I say that’s bullshit, if you’ll forgive me the term. There’s such a thing as responsiblities and realism, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that these are things we love, things we need, things that ultimately make us the people we are. Why should we give up? Why shouldn’t we at least try  to strive for our dreams? Sure not every little kid can become an astronaut, but for the ones who truly dream of it with all their heart and soul, why shouldn’t they be given the chance, the opportunity to reach for the stars? We shouldn’t give up our hopes and dreams based on the idea that they might not happen. We shouldn’t give up our little joys just because life tends to get in the way. If you truly love something, if you truly dream of something, you should figure out how to make it work.

I challenge you today to think hard about the dreams you gave up, the hobbies you stopped taking  part in, the little pleasures you allowed to be taken away from you. When you’ve done that I want you to imagine yourself years from now, old and worn and on your deathbed. You know you’re going to die any moment. What do you regret having not done?

Myself, I write because I can’t not write. It may sound childish to some, but it’s the truth. I know, in my heart, that years from now when I’m old and worn, if I’ve never published anything, or at least tried as hard as I possibly could to publish something, I’ll die with regret. Writing is one of the things that makes me who I am and I can’t not do it, even if it sometimes makes my life difficult, even if it sometimes feels pointless.

What is it that you can’t not do?

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