Terrible Ideas

One of my favorite quotes is from the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, when Frances meets Catherine in the square, looking at the small drawing of Bramasole in the real estate office window. Catherine asks Frances if she’s going to buy it, and Frances says no, it would be a terrible idea.

Catherine nods. “Terrible idea. Don’t you just love those?”

I’m reaching a point in my life where I’m beginning to wonder if the only good ideas are terrible ideas. The ones that fill us with fear — no, not fear, abject terror is more like it — and the ones that make our hearts pound and keep us up at night wondering “what if.” What if I went back to school? What if I bought that fixer-upper house? What if I sent my novel to an agent? What if I bought that car sight unseen? What if I put my photos in a photo show? What if . . .

All of these are questions running through my mind right now.

I’m beginning to think that terrible ideas are nothing more than missed opportunities. They’re the fear that keeps us from living the life we’re supposed to be living. We hear that little voice inside that says “Is this all there is? THIS? What the fruitbat? This is not what I signed up for.” And yet when we’re given the chance to change our lives and do the things we think we’re meant to be doing — we hesitate. Sometimes we openly balk. Jerk our heads back against the reins, and refuse to take another step further. So someone else buys our car. Someone else renovates our house — or tears it down. Someone else goes back to school, gets the job, goes on the trip.

Because we let fear get in our way.

Sure, I’ve done things that scared me, and they almost always turn out great. I was terrified to take online courses through Oxford University’s Continuing Ed department. Who was I to think I could compete at that level? But I took the classes anyway and they challenged me and pushed me and made me better. And I loved them. And as soon as I can afford it, I will take more.

Terrible ideas. Fear. Money. Family obligations. It’s impossible to compartmentalize our lives. Whether we’re writers trying to sneak in another paragraph or two before the kids get out of school, or trying to decide how we’ll organize supper plans if we have a night class this semester, or how we’re going to fit a car payment into our monthly budget when we already have so much debt . . . Is it about taking a leap of faith? Is there a time when the terrible idea is really just that? A terrible idea? Or are they always good things in disguise? Things that will reward us if we just have the courage to do them?

I wish I knew. I’m still seeking that answer. Maybe no one really ever knows. A million things can always go wrong. You lose a job. The car blows a transmission. The house needs more work than you thought. College is taking more time away from your family than you’d planned.

But I’m beginning to realize that there’s another saying that’s true:  the only things in life you really regret are the things you didn’t do.

I believe in arming yourself with as much knowledge as you can. You want to buy a house? Get an inspection. Get pre-approved for a loan. Know what you can and can’t spend. College? What will tuition run each semester? Can you schedule classes around work and family schedules? Will you be able to do the degree in the required time — or will you need an additional semester or two? Plan for that. What about student loans and scholarships? Investigate them. That’s what all those resources — financial aid officers, advisors — are there for. Take advantage of them.

Whatever it is you want to do, even if it really does seem like a terrible idea — at least look into it. You don’t know. It might be exactly the thing you should be doing.

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