I always found them a bit scary. Bamboo curtains, that is. I’m sure you’ve seen one before. Comprised of countless, tiny bamboo sticks forming many strands, they usually hang in doorways. They’re often colorful, specked with beads and other decorative elements, and they rattle and click every time you pass through.
When I was eight, our neighbors had one. Walking through it made me feel uneasy. I’m not sure whether it was the sounds, giving away my approach, the surprising weight of individual strands when they hit you as the curtain fell back into place, or something else, but without fail, I got an eerie feeling each time.
Nowadays, I stand before a bamboo curtain on a regular basis, not literally but figuratively. On days like today, I stare at the many different strands, each one unique, each one colored just a little differently. The strands are the ideas for what I could write about, and sooner or later, I’ll have to pick one, and make my way through.
This morning, there was a strand glistening with mortality. It reminded me that I personally know two people who lost a loving parent before they were 30, that even the world’s richest man lost his first child, and that life can change very drastically very quickly.
There was a strand full of passion, glowing red hot, insisting that most writing courses, challenges, and other handholding exercises are bullshit. That no one can truly teach you how to write — except you — and that “atomic essays,” “one line, one sentence,” and other nonsense concepts from marketers will turn you from a competent writer into a bad one instead of a good one.
Another strand glowed with empathy. It wanted to retell a tiny piece of Walter Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography about how his brother Kimbal downloaded a game to bond with his brother, one of the lessons of which was that “empathy hurts in business.” He later deleted the game because it was “destroying his marriage.” If empathy is essential in relationships, might there be a way for it to be beneficial in business as well?
In the end, I wrote none of those stories. I picked a different strand altogether, and now, you’re reading this. Will I ever publish them? Who knows? But the act of seeing, deliberating on, and choosing strands is essential. You, too, must do it every day. Not with stories, perhaps, but with people, tasks, and communication.
It’s easy to stare at the strands all day long. To look at the many colorful options, yet act on none at all. Often, choosing sooner is better than later. Time won’t stop ticking wether you stand or move, and clicking beads provide their own type of stimulation and insight. Once you decide and go, subsequent choices might get easier.
Don’t be afraid of bamboo curtains. Picking strands is a privilege, but in the end, options are just decor in the doorway. In order to see what comes next, you’ll simply have to grab one and step through.