top of page

The entire Navigate the Chaos collection of all 365 blog posts is now available in a paperback entitled Navigate the Chaos (795 pages for $24.99). A smaller collection of thoughts from the Navigate the Chaos collection is available in paperback entitled Wonder (94 pages for $4.99)

How often do you experiment with your life?

Today is March 20 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you experiment with your life?” To navigate the chaos and leverage your mind, body, and spirit, it will be necessary from time to time to experiment.

A young woman once asked French Cuban-American Anaïs Nin the following question: “I am interested in so many things, and I have a terrible fear because my mother keeps telling me that I'm just going to be exploring the rest of my life and never get anything done. But I find it hard to set my ways and say, ‘Well, do I want to do this, or should I try to exploit that, or should I escape and completely do one thing?’”

In her answer Nin emphasized the need to experiment with one’s life and wrote a detailed response composed of several themes. The first theme Nin emphasized centered around the word ‘escape’ when she wrote “One word I would banish from the dictionary is 'escape.' Just banish that and you'll be fine. Because that word has been misused regarding anybody who wanted to move away from a certain spot and wanted to grow. You know if you forget that word you will have a much easier time. Also, you are in the prime, the beginning of your life; you should experiment with everything, try everything.” Here Nin stresses the need to experiment with one’s life.

Nin continued in her response with a second theme focused on dichotomies when she wrote “We are taught all these dichotomies, and I only learned later that they could work in harmony. We have created false dichotomies; we create false ambivalences, and very painful one’s sometimes - the feeling that we have to choose. But I think at one point we finally realize, sometimes subconsciously, whether we are really fitted for what we try and if it's what we want to do. You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too. No, I think there was too rigid a pattern.” Once again emphasizing the right to experiment with your life, Nin highlighted the ‘false ambivalences and dichotomies’ society creates. We seldom have the choice between two options; all we have to do is recognize the ability to experiment with life.

The third theme Nin mentioned in her response suggested how vocations can change over time when she wrote “You came out of an education and are supposed to know your vocation. Your vocation is fixed, and maybe ten years later you find you are not a teacher anymore or you're not a painter anymore. It may happen. It has happened. I mean Gauguin decided at a certain point he wasn't a banker anymore; he was a painter. And so, he walked away from banking.”

Nin brings up an interesting example of someone who experimented with his life in Gauguin. In 1871, the 23-year-old Gauguin, who recently returned to Paris after schooling, secured a job as a stockbroker. A close family friend, Gustave Arosa, got him a job at the Paris Bourse. Gauguin became a successful Parisian businessman and remained one for the next 11 years. During the Paris stock market crash of 1882, however, Gauguin's earnings deteriorated sharply and he eventually decided to pursue painting full-time.

Finally, Nin concluded her response with the affirmation that you have the right to alter the course of your life at any given moment when she wrote “I think we have a right to change course. But society is the one that keeps demanding that we fit in and not disturb things. They would like you to fit in right away so that things work now.”

Nin’s own life was an experiment. As Sady Doyle wrote in "Before Lena Dunham, there was Anais Nin-now patron saint of social media," an April 7, 2015, article published in The Guardian “In her lifetime, Nin was an oddity: for one thing, she was a woman who wrote explicitly about sex from a female point of view. Her work included frank portrayals of illegal abortions, extramarital affairs, and incest, all of which Nin wrote about without judging her female characters. That’s brave in 2015; in 1940, it was career suicide.”

In her lifetime critics railed against Nin and called her irrelevant, a joke, a fraud or in the words of one detractor, “a monster of self-centeredness whose artistic pretensions now seem grotesque.” That changed in 1966 when Harcourt Brace published The Diary of Anaïs Nin. The existence of the diary, a monumental life’s work that Nin was completed in secret – even when radically edited down for publication, it spanned seven volumes and 50 years – had long been speculated about in literary circles. So began the age of Anaïs Nin, feminist icon: worshipped by young women who believed she had provided the first real account of how a woman could thrive in the male-dominated world of literature. She toured the country, giving readings and speeches.

Fifteen years after her death her image was tarnished when the public learned she had two husbands: Hugh Parker Guiler in New York and Rupert Pole in California. Moreover, the 1995 publication of Deirdre Bair’s award-winning biography contributed to the character assassination by painting Nin’s as a woman who, in the words of The Philadelphia Inquirer “lied and fornicated the way the rest of us breathe.” Review after review focused on Nin solely as a sexual object: someone who’d had too much sex, and the wrong kind of sex, and should therefore be punished.

In recent years, however, social media has helped to rehabilitate Nin’s image and is taking place not because her work has changed, but because the world has changed to make room for her work.

As Doyle noted “Twenty years after the great trashing of 1995, the landscape is different. The world of 2015 is, essentially, Nin’s world to claim. To blur the boundaries of life and fiction, as Nin did, has gone beyond being an acceptable tactic of experimental writers, and is now practiced by reality-television producers and popular novelists alike. Similarly, for a woman to write about her sex life has not been shocking since the invention of Blogspot. Self-publication, too, has lost nearly its stigma, thanks to the fact that ‘real’ writers and civilians alike are expected to do it. Like many great and ‘mercilessly pretentious’ experimentalists, she wrote for a world that did not yet exist, and so helped to bring it into being.”

  • Nin lived a life of experimenting. How often do you experiment?

  • If you are not experimenting enough why do you think that is?

  • How comfortable are you making mistakes?

  • Why don’t you want to make more mistakes?

  • When is the last time you walked away in order to experiment?

  • Who or what is holding you back from experimenting?

  • What area of life would you like to experiment on and why?


bottom of page