Every story needs conflict. Obstacles and tension make a story compelling and effective. In the alchemy of story, they give the mixture intensity. We get emotionally invested in the story when characters we care about are embroiled in difficult situations. In our “instant gratification culture,” one element of the process that often gets overlooked is adding TIME to the mix. Letting things stew for a bit. Making the audience WAIT (along with our heroes) for resolution.
Admit it–the resolution of the major conflicts of the season was so much more satisfying because they weren’t resolved when we wanted them to be (immediately!) but in due course of time. Kind of like life.
I am as guilty of that kind of impatience as anyone. I read spoilers for my favorite shows, because I want to know how it’s all going to work out now, dammit. When I’m in the bookstore, I read the last couple of pages if I’m undecided about buying a book. Yeah–I’m that person.
Largely, this is because I want to know the outcome before I make the investment.
On the face of it, that doesn’t seem unreasonable. Nobody likes risk. Nobody likes putting their energy, time or resources into something only to find out that it wasn’t worth it. Nobody likes to find out that what they were working towards or hoping to happen just… doesn’t work out.
What I’m realizing lately is that in life, it’s sometimes the element of risk that creates a meaningful experience in the first place.
When you only do things that have a guaranteed outcome, you end up with what my husband Chris and I call “The McDonald’s Experience.” Nobody over the age of 10 really thinks McDonald’s is a great restaurant. You go because it’s a guaranteed consistent and predictable experience. It’s sort of like a Nickelback song. There aren’t going to be any surprises, and it probably isn’t going to completely suck. There’s no real risk, and no real opportunity for surprising rewards.
But there’s a diminishing rate of return on those kinds of experiences. Because in a fundamentally unpredictable world, nobody and nothing can truly guarantee even just an average or acceptable outcome.
All you usually manage by seeking situations that guarantee you won’t have an awful outcome, is guaranteeing you won’t have a completely amazing one.
I’ve been guilty of this way too much for the last couple of years. I have made consistently safe choices. I have strived for guarantees in a world that isn’t really capable of delivering on them. I should know this better than most. Perhaps that’s why the siren song of guaranteed outcomes was particularly bewitching to me for the last few years.
My willingness to take risks and do the unexpected used to be one of the things that made me special. It used to be one of my personal strengths. Getting burned a few times taught me that, in the words of Will Schuester, “Sometimes, being special sucks.”
The answer to that problem is that it isn’t really a problem. Sometimes, being typical sucks, too.
Either way, it’s better to be who you are.