Writing in pen connotes such things as permanence, commitment, completion, and certainty. On the contrary, writing in pencil suggests tentativeness, caution, uncertainty, and an increased sense of freedom and creativity.
With a pencil, you’re being experimental, trying something out that may not end up successful. You’re more at liberty to simply erase it, thereby giving yourself a fresh start. After all, what you’ve done wasn’t written in stone—or ink. More systematically, however, let’s look at the various reasons that choosing to live a “pencil-like” existence makes so much sense:
1. A pencil assists you in getting started. One of the things that leads to procrastination is feeling anxious that the endeavor you’re considering may not turn out perfectly—or at least not the way you want it to. And the more you worry about possible negative outcomes, the more you’re likely to delay beginning it.
But the truth is that in life, with all its vicissitudes, we typically can’t be sure in advance how viable an undertaking is. As in the famous proverb, “He who hesitates is lost,” if we endlessly deliberate about initiating some process, relationship, or pursuit, you may well end up forfeiting its potential rewards.
Still, if you start out “in pencil,” minimizing whatever tendency you might otherwise have to obsess about adverse consequences, you’ll be much better off. For you’ll probably come to realize that the risks you’re taking aren’t really what your worst-case scenarios suggested. And a more assured “go-for-it” attitude will lessen your anxiety about getting started and help you focus not on possible failure but on what you need to do to optimize the chance of success. That way you won’t prematurely put off something that potentially could offer you significant benefits.
If you start things out “in pencil”—not investing too much time, money, or energy in the process until you find out more about its tenability—you’ll be giving yourself that much more of an opportunity to live your life in a way that contributes to its inventiveness, novelty, vigor, and ultimate fulfillment.
2. Pencils are ideal for rough drafts. Literally, whatever you write in pencil can easily be erased. Ask yourself: “How much of what I’d like to accomplish might later—but only later—be something I recognize as ill-advised?” That’s why it’s imprudent to commit to something before giving it a “trial run” to gather evidence not available until you try it out (as in, “ready-fire-aim”).
To live life in pencil is to consider the advantages of tackling things tentatively. With such an exploratory approach, your investigation should culminate in “earned” wisdom. By regularly evaluating the results of your efforts, you become more cognizant, more enlightened, about what most likely will be effective. And if like most of us, you learn best through trial and error, it’s a pencil (vs. pen) that allows for such experimentation.
Writing something in pen implies a finality not present in writing in pencil. And when you’re trying something out, it’s foolish to consider your initial foray as equivalent to “penning” a final draft. Your sense of closure ought to come naturally, only after you’ve granted yourself enough time to sufficiently put to the test whatever you’re considering.
3. Pencil helps you keep an open mind. Keeping your options open and delaying a decision until you’ve reached a point of near-certainty makes good sense. At any particular time that may be the best you can do. Here, you’re allowing for additions and deletions, not bound by biases that could lead you to misinterpret the results of your analysis. Writing in pen suggests you’re committed to a point of view, whereas using a pencil permits you to remain flexible as you continue to explore what’s likely to be most advantageous going forward.
4. Pencil helps you become more resilient. Pencil points are much more likely to break than a pen’s. But when such breakage occurs, pencils can easily be sharpened, which restores them to full functionality. In fact, it can be kind of enjoyable to sharpen a pencil to just the sharpness you prefer. However, when the point of a pen somehow gets severed or dulled, it’s “totaled”—time to toss it.
5. It’s safer to write out your plans in pencil. Doing so affords you (and possibly others) the message that you don’t wish to be rash, or brash—that you want to pay due diligence to all the facets of whatever challenge you’re facing. And you’re quite aware that not all of these challenges can be known in advance.
6. A pencil assists you in creating the space you need. The farther out you are from reaching a goal, the more you require the space to be receptive to possible revisions. And as you come closer to achieving your objectives, you need to be that much more aware of how to adjust, recalibrate, improve upon, or fine-tune them. If you don’t, if you rigidly adhere (pen-like) to your original perspective, you’ll be more likely to fail—even while you’re learning (or should be learning) that revisions may be required if what you aim for is to become a reality.
7. It will minimize disappointment and disgruntlement. When life throws you off course, you’re more likely to take such upsets or reversals in stride if you view your earlier forecasting benignly, as a reasonably educated guess. As diligent as you may have been, you can’t ever be certain of how life’s twists and turns will affect reaching your goals.
It’s undeniable that the trajectory of one’s life can be influenced by any number of unanticipated events. It’s not that you don’t have some control over your future, but you can’t have total control of it either. At any one time, there’s only so much that can be known. And that’s why it’s wise to be cautious about—and accepting of—unforeseeable contingencies.
Life is like that: full of surprises and unpredictable developments. So take care not to commit to something prematurely. You’ll be happier once you give up the idea that, with enough effort, will, and determination, you can make all your dreams come true. Because you can’t.
As in so many things, following the Serenity Prayer (whether from a secular or religious vantage point) is the most judicious thing you can do: that is, having the courage to change what you can, the serenity to accept what you cannot, and finally, being able to discern the difference between the two.
© 2019 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.