Last year from mid August until June I didn’t watch any TV (save for Christmas break and the Olympics). This summer I did my fair share of catching up, and now that the fall season has begun I’m a full-fledged addict.
The show that has most caught my attention is Being Erica. 1) Because I love Canadian television (I’m a longtime fan of Degrassi (both generations) and Ready or Not); and 2) because I can relate to the lead character, Erica Strange.
She’s a woman who’s trying to figure out what she wants. The process of saying “Yes” to something new and great and risky also means saying “No” to a lot of good things in her life.
Erica has a therapist called Dr. Tom who let’s her travel back in time to relive parts of her past and gain new insights and lessons from them. At the end of Season 2 Erica was fired from her position as a Junior Editor at a publishing firm. She and her ex-boss Julie-Ann (also fired), decide to open their own publishing company. Erica comes home to her boyfriend, Ethan, to celebrate this new vision, but he doesn’t share her excitement. As a man who’s practical and play-it-safe, Ethan doesn’t think Erica has what it takes to run a business.
Erica is angry, but then she starts to wonder if Ethan is right. Maybe she’s stupid to try to pursue a dream. She loses hope. She hits a wall.
Every Wall is a Door
But that’s when Dr. Tom comes in. He takes her to a brick building where he begins to draw some lines in chalk, forming a door. “Every wall is a door,” he says (Ralph Waldo Emerson). He pushes the “door” and they walk through to the other side, where they find themselves in a hallway with many doors.
Erica’s task? Choose a door. But she can’t decide which door to choose. She doesn’t have the faintest idea. Ethan’s reaction to her news has her confused and lacking confidence. Instead of deciding what she wants, she’s more concerned with choosing the door Dr. Tom wants. So Dr. Tom launches into some Alice in Wonderland, quoting Alice and the Cheshire Cat:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.
Erica still can’t decide. “If you don’t care,” says Dr. Tom, “Then it doesn’t matter.” Then he vanishes through a door.
Moments later Erica pops up beside Dr. Tom. She followed him. Tom’s exasperated.
“Erica you had three choices back there. Choice one: choose a door. Choice two: stay in the hallway, undecided. Or choice three: follow me.”
Dr. Tom is disappointed with Erica’s decision, so he sends her back to the late 90s when she was an English Lit masters student to learn how trying to please others has affected her life.
What Do You Want?
When Erica’s thesis advisor tears apart her proposal she’s heartbroken. But instead of doing things the way she did the first time around (writing a nasty email about her prof which accidently ends up in her mailbox) she decides to ask her advisor for some suggestions. Essentially her question is, “What should I write about?”
And thus the monster is unleashed. “Why exactly are you in this masters program?” the professor asks Erica.
Erica is dumbfounded. She can’t answer. She tries to bring the conversation back to her thesis topic.
“I was trying to give you want you wanted,” says Erica.
“It has nothing to do with me. It is your thesis, your degree, your life. Figure it out, Miss Strange. And do it with another thesis advisor!”
Erica returns the next day to talk to her professor. She has to know what she’s done that would cause her to hate Erica so much.
“Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to watch students waste years hiding out in university when they could be pursuing their dreams?”
“And how do you know that I’m hiding out?” asks Erica.
“Because you can’t answer the most basic question. Why are you here? What do you want to do with your life?”
She hesitates, and then speaks with courage, “I want to be an editor. I want to publish books. I want to start my own company, as crazy as that sounds.”
“Thirty years ago when I told my father that one day I wanted to chair the English department he laughed in my face. Leave the degrees to the academics. Follow your heart, Erica. Don’t you let anyone try to stop you.”
“Thank you,” says Erica as she leaves the classroom and enters back into present day.
Choose a Door
The wall that has been Erica’s resistance is suddenly a door. Her unemployment is the opportunity to pursue what she wants. Her professor has given her the permission to go and do and dream. Don’t we all want that? Scared yet sure, Erica commits to becoming business partners with Julie-Ann and ends her relationship with Ethan.
She walks up to brick wall etched with chalk-lines, pushes through, and comes face to face with Dr. Tom. It’s time to choose a door.
When the show ended I thought this was the best episode of any show I’ve ever seen. There are many solid lessons to be taken from Erica’s situation.
1) Every wall is a door
So you think you’ve hit a wall. Perhaps you just got let go or you can’t find a job. But maybe it’s time to view that wall as an opportunity for something great, like trying a new career path, brushing up on some skills, or pursuing that dream you’ve been too scared to even mention.
2) Choose a door
What do YOU want? Not your mom and dad. Not your professors. Not your boyfriend/girlfriend. What do you want? Like Erica, you can end up wasting time trying to please these people by doing the things they want you to do (like Erica’s boyfriend Ethan) while never figuring out what’s at the core of your heart. And hey, maybe you just think you have to please them, but all along they just want you to do what you want (like Erica’s professor).
And do you know where you’re going or what you want? Cuz like the good ol’ Cheshire Cat says (funny, I never liked that character), if you don’t know, then it doesn’t really matter! Eventually you’re going to end up somewhere if you walk around long enough. But really, who likes to wander in the wilderness?
Even though the show left me all warm and fuzzy and spilling over with hope, I know it’s not that easy (however Erica didn’t make it look easy). Living out that kind of endurance takes a lot of, well…endurance. It requires pushing through a lot of walls. And choosing to say yes, and choosing to say no, even when it’s hard. And sometimes what you really want is going to go against the grain. It won’t seem logical. People – people very close to you – won’t understand certain sacrifices, like money. Especially money.
I’d rather live my life knowing what I want, pushing through walls, and choosing my door than spend my life standing in the hallway, undecided. Or perhaps even worse, following others through their doors. My purpose is unique. So is yours. Choose a door.