We always have a choice. Not about what happens to us, to whom we were born, or the situations that surround our lives—these are things beyond our control. However, we have a lot more choices in our lives than we give ourselves credit for, and whether we realize it or not, we are making choices all day long.
How do we spend our time and who do we spend it with? We may not always feel we have choices about those things—I know I used this excuse when I was a single mom: “I have to have this job because I need to feed and clothe my child and provide a roof over her head.” Of course I wanted to take care of my daughter and make sure she had all of the opportunities she needed to be happy, healthy, and ultimately, successful. But with this goal in mind, I got caught up making a lot of choices I didn’t need to make.
My beliefs about what it meant to be successful, intermingled with my beliefs about women’s rights, with my beliefs about being a good mom, co-worker, ex-spouse and friend. With these ideas all jumbled up in my head, I often felt like I was going down a predestined path where I was in the car, but not actually driving. Add that to the list of pressures and opinions I heard from the well-meaning (my friends and family), along with society, and I perceived myself as “choice less” for much of a decade.
It took my Dad dying for me to see I had more choices than I had recognized: What kind of job will fit better with what I really want for my myself and my daughter? Where will I live? How will I spend my time? What is really important? I now ask myself these types of questions on a much more regular basis. This has led to some life-changing decisions, and more importantly, some questioning about what beliefs were driving my decisions and choices.
My choices haven’t always worked out in the end, and yet, once I made the leap to understanding I could live by my own beliefs and values, it changed how I approached things. It also helped me to understand that while I had often blamed outside factors for my choices, I was always the one making my own decisions. I also realized I didn’t need anyone’s permission to make the choices I made. Others would always have an opinion about what I was doing, and if I lived based on what they thought, I would never please all of them. On top of that, I might drive myself crazy or at least make myself miserable in the interim.
This realization created a huge sense of freedom for me, but also drove home a sense of responsibility for my actions. I owned up to the responsibility of my life looking the way it does because of the choices I make each and every day. This allowed me to see that my choices not only have an impact on me, but on my family, friends, and community. It helped me to understand that even small choices could either help or harm myself and others. Essentially, finally understanding I was in charge of my own life was empowering. No matter what happens to me, I now know I have choices in how I deal with it.
When we find ourselves stuck in what seems like a tough situation, it’s helpful to remember that we usually have more options than we give ourselves credit for. It may be difficult to choose a new job or career path, move across the country, or end an unfulfilling relationship, but those options are available. And having tough choices is always better than having no choices at all.