What Does it Mean to ‘Break the Script?’
Everything is a choice. That’s a weird thing to say, isn’t it? There are hundreds of things that are outside of our control.
We can’t choose where we’re born, or even who we’re born as. Thousands of people can’t choose to no longer be sick, or blind, or paralyzed. We can’t choose to be lucky, we can’t choose what other people think, sometimes we can’t even choose not to play a catchy song over and over in our heads!
But it’s important to remember how much is in our control at any given time. No matter who we are or what challenges we face, the future is a wide open field of opportunities.
We often forget how many choices we have because there is usually a default option. As we grow up people all around us influence our decisions, whether actively or incidentally. Over time these expectations, taboos, obligations, incentives, and laws limit our options, define our choices, and form a pre-written script for each one of us.
We only recognize that the script is there when other people’s lines differ from ours. One woman’s script might tell her to marry young and have many children. Another woman might be expected to earn a Ph.D. before even thinking about dating.
As a middle class American, your script is probably similar to mine. Go to school. Get good grades. Go to the best college that will accept you. Get a job. Buy a car. Get married. Have two and a half kids. Buy a house. Work for 40 years. Retire when you’re 65 (if you retire at all).
Most of us dutifully follow the script most of the time, even when we don’t like it. We just accept that “this is the way things are.”
It’s hard to break the script, but the best we can hope for when we follow the script is to please other people — usually our friends, our parents, and our bosses. The alternative is to live the life we want to live, and to achieve success on our own terms. The script is limiting. The canvas of our opportunities beyond the script is borderless.
One of the most common limitations we face is our finances. When we haven’t saved enough money to realize our dreams or to help us rebound from a failed venture, we have to settle for a conventional life. Ask anyone if they’re doing what truly makes them happy and I bet most of them will say something like “not right now, but this is a good stepping stone to X” or “it’s just temporary until I figure out what I want.”
Ask them why they’re not doing what truly makes them happy right now instead of waiting until later and you’ll get a hundred excuses. Many of them will be monetary. They want to spend more time with their kids but they need to work full time to meet their expenses. They want to start their own business but the risk of failure would cripple their meager savings. They want to travel the world but they have to pay off debt.
These excuses can all be summarized as “I can’t, because…” As David Schwartz writes in The Magic of Thinking Big, when we say “I can’t,” we stop thinking. All it takes to fuel our imagination is to change this phrase to “I can, because…” or at least to ask “how can I?”
When we change our thinking this way, the reality that everything is a choice becomes clear. Every problem has a solution. Every goal requires nothing more than a plan and time. This is especially true for young people, who are rich with the most valuable asset there is.
We don’t have to follow the script if we’ve planned for financial freedom. This planning happens every time we make financial decisions, even ones that aren’t obvious. A graduating high school student, instead of loading himself with student debt at a private college, can spend his first two years in community college, get kickass grades, and go to the flagship public university in his state. These days, his major is often more important to his career success than the college he chooses.
A young professional starting a new job can choose to live as close as possible to work instead of living in a bigger apartment far away. Here in greater Washington, DC people often commute across two or more states every day in some of the worst traffic in the country. This choice to live far from work is hugely detrimental to people’s physical, mental, and financial health. But many of us take it for granted.
An engaged couple can choose not to plan the fancy wedding that Disney princess movies prescribe for them. One of the best wedding stories I’ve heard is from a couple who decided to get married at the nearest courthouse and to host a reception at their home. It was raining that day, so they squeezed dozens of their closest friends into their townhouse for the afternoon and partied until late at night. Not only does this showcase the couple’s awesome zen attitude, but they created a lifetime of happy memories for only a few hundred dollars.
When we break the script we often profit in unexpected ways. Default options are often not in our best interest. Common knowledge is often out of date. We learn and grow every time we carefully consider the choices we make, their tradeoffs, and their long-term consequences.
You can break the script if you start planning for it now. You can write your own story and your own rules. I’m betting that as soon as you do so, you’ll never look back. There are too many opportunities out there to explore.
Alejandro is a financial planner with Monte Largo Financial Advisors LLC.