Every time I approach a major transition in my life, I have the distinct sense that I am about to die. I have an anxiety disorder, so this isn’t an entirely uncommon experience for me (I have the same experience every time I get on a plane). But when I’m in the middle of a big life change, I feel it very acutely for months on end. When I graduated college, I was convinced I was going to have a heart attack at any moment. When I got into law school, I convinced myself I had some kind of cancer. Not that I was particularly sick, I just felt like I was approaching my own death. When I left law school, I convinced myself I would die of starvation and unemployment, probably. And when I got a new job, I convinced myself that I had colon cancer or maybe an ulcer or maybe I was going to get some sort of blood clot situation because of my birth control. Because I have an anxiety disorder, it’s difficult for me to separate good instincts from just particularly loud anxiety impulses. Anxiety feels reasonable when you’re experiencing it, even if it looks ridiculous in retrospect.
Obviously, as time proved, I was not dying any of those times. But I think the reason I get this feeling every time I’m in a period of transition is when you’re going through a big change, you are experiencing a sort of death. If your life starts out as a factor tree of infinite possibilities, every time you pick a specific path or make a big decision, you’re going further down the factor tree. And all the potential versions of you that could have existed if you’d made a different decision have to die. They aren’t possible anymore. It’s getting to those places in your life where you realize you have to make decisions about the type of person you’re going to be. You’re not a nine-year-old anymore who can be a firefighter OR a pop star OR a world explorer OR a writer OR an actress OR an astronaut. You can only be a few of those things (at most). You are just one person, not infinite potential people.
Of course, those possibilities go away just the same if you refuse to make any decisions. Inaction is a decision just the same way action is, and it’ll narrow your possibilities as well. If you never leap at opportunities, eventually, opportunities are going to stop coming. Which is why you have to step forward and confidently make life decisions, no matter how much you hate it, and trust that it won’t kill you (even if it feels like it will).