Choosing One Over the Other


I believe we always have choices.

There's always another job to work, another place to live, another fine lad or lassie to date… and even in the most extremely limiting of circumstances, we can at least choose the story we tell ourselves about what's happened to us and, consequently, create very different lenses of reality through which to understand it.

Sometimes, indeed, the overwhelming existence of so many options becomes an inhibiting factor. How to know which is which, and what is what? What if I make the wrong choice? What happens to the alternate me in that parallel universe where I have opted to turn left instead of right? Is that me healthier? wealthier? wiser? happier? The mental games we play with ourselves when faced with taking a decisive turn threaten to paralyze us in our place.

To make a different choice—to do something else which pulls us away from a manner of living that's familiar and safe (though unfulfilling)—is also to choose not to continue doing that same old thing.

And since there are no reassuring guarantees about outcomes once we choose this something-else, this foreign-to-our-prior-experiences participation, we often like to keep one hand still clutching to the comforting status-quo… as if to reserve ourselves a fall-back plan, in case we change our minds or discover the psychic challenge involved in stretching to these new lengths is harder than we bargained for.

So, we maintain that relationship we know 'just isn't right' because we worry there isn't anyone else coming around the bend—and settle for a lack of vital romantic love in our life.

We stay in the dead-end job out of fear we'll never find any other one—and resign ourselves to years ahead of the same routine.

We refuse to change residences—though the place we're in feels tight or unwelcoming—because of the immense amounts of effort we might have to expend in order to create a truly nurturing domestic environment.

And the most compelling reason not to initiate this change? Well, while our less-than-ideal situation could certainly be improved upon, there's not necessarily anything overtly wrong with where we're at. It isn't terrible. Our partner isn't mistreating us. Our job is steady enough that it pays the bills. At least we have a place to live.

The fact that 'things could be worse' becomes our excuse not to embrace the other perspective: that, in fact, things could be much better. Being 'okay' seems like incentive enough not to rock the boat.

As I see it, it's usually much harder to take the dramatic step to shake up our life when there isn't a flashing neon warning-light that's blatantly obvious to us and everyone around us. Perhaps we even have a family member or close friend who encourages us to stay put, motivated as they may be by their own security anxieties and, of course, wanting 'what's best for you' (though isn't it really more accurately what's just 'okay' for you). This fear of leaping toward fuller satisfaction is, after all, often an inherited trait.

Yet, the cumulative effect of a life led not making such daring choices can, in the end, result in a crisis of its own… perhaps not as conspicuous (in our having sought to minimize extremes of all sorts), but nonetheless a dulling of the senses, a hollowing out of the core, a crystallizing of acceptance that 'this is all there is'… not because there weren't other possibilities but due to having chosen not to explore them. This, in many ways, is a rather bleak reality to contend with during our last moments.

Nothing puts life in greater perspective than looking back from its tail end and reflecting on what could've been, though there's no reason such reflection must wait for our death-bed. I often use this projected imagining of what I might be most proud of—and what I'd regret—as a motivating factor in choosing what to embrace, and what to release, in my current life. Now, in this ever-fleeting interval of vitality, I can still affect what that future experience will feel like.

I believe we falsely assume we can just hold on to the discontenting elements of our lives 'for the time being' until something better comes along… as if these wonderfully expansive opportunities are eager to barge into our lives and knock over what's already existing, just so they may heroically rescue us from the settled resignation… and all we have to do is wait around. Having resigned ourselves, even only partly, to the acceptance of discontentment, we are far less likely to attract the better goodies—and just as unlikely to actually grab them should they appear, considering all the uncertainty involved.

Until we choose not to continue participating in the type of relationship where our needs aren't met (because we don't speak up, because we don't believe we deserve it, because we'll do anything to keep someone around), that is precisely the type of relationship we will draw.

Until we choose not to remain in jobs with bosses who disrespect us or duties so below our skills level that we're essentially asleep all the workday (because we don't talk back, because we're afraid of exposure to new ideas, because we fear being canned), these are the jobs that'll keep coming.

Until we choose not to live in unhealthful environments or with piggish housemates (because our own comfort isn't important enough to fight for, because we won't prioritize the money-saving requirements to move, because we don't know where else to go), the place we live will continue to lack the ability to recharge our battery.

If we hope for something better to come along, we must be willing to first choose to let go of the thing that falls short. While practical concerns (such as finances) may make it necessary to hold onto a job until the next one is secured, for instance, that doesn't mean you can't still form a firm decision to leave that job no matter what… and to refuse to stop actively looking, on a habitually regular basis, in every spare moment, until you have found a replacement. This is qualitatively different than acknowledging you don't like where you are and theoretically would change it, if an alternative magically materialized. You must choose to find the alternative.