I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
Scarlett O’Hara’s famous line from Gone with the Wind has been stuck in my head recently. I have spent much of the past year weighing a big career shift, and as I tried to figure out how to come to a decision one way or the other, I found myself turning not to close friends or family, but to casual acquaintances or, in some cases, virtual strangers.
It wasn’t so much that I sought their opinion on what I should do with the next chapter of my life. Rather, I used the conversations as a sort of test drive to see what it sounded like when I voiced certain scenarios out loud. I would describe a career path to someone as though I was already on it (instead of still in the hypothetical stage), and if the words felt natural and inspired genuine enthusiasm in me, I figured that was a pretty clear sign something was worth exploring further.
Looking back, I realize I did this same thing at another big fork in the road: when deciding whether to try to have a third child. My husband and I had always envisioned a two-child family, and once we had our son and first daughter, we felt complete. Until I didn’t anymore.
The idea of another baby took me so by surprise that I figured it was a bout of temporary insanity, some sort of hormonal shift that would soon pass. When it didn’t pass and instead grew more persistent, I found myself telling random strangers that we were trying for a third baby months before that was actually true. (I hadn’t even told my husband yet!) I needed to say the words out loud to another human being—one who didn’t know me and therefore felt completely neutral on the subject. I don’t remember any of them offering advice, and I didn’t need that; I just needed to talk through the jumble of thoughts racing through my brain.
Someday maybe I’ll tell our youngest daughter that she owes her existence in small part to a nail technician, a flight attendant and several other people she’ll never meet. And maybe there will be a similar cast of characters whom I credit for my next job, if the decision I’ve made pans out.
Either way, I’m a firm believer that sometimes it’s best to tell a stranger things you aren’t yet ready to tell the people close to you. Think of it as a zero-stakes dress rehearsal for the real thing. And besides, if whatever you’re considering doesn’t come to pass, only you and the Lyft driver will ever know.