This past week my mom passed away, and it left me with lots of thought on life, both my own life and life in general. My mother was 80, and you can say she lived a long life, but she did not live a happy one. Her life choices got me doing some deep thinking about how a choice can make you or break you.
Choices are a daily part of life
Life is full of choices some big, some little, and some that will change your life. How do we know what is the best choice to make, which one to choose, how can we weigh the alternatives and what if we make the wrong decision?
These are all valid questions, and there are no for sure answers. Each of us will have a different set of circumstances on which to evaluate our decision. None of us has an absolute way to guarantee the outcome of any of the more significant life decisions. We can, however, evaluate them in a way that gives us a better chance of success.
Choosing can be challenging
Small choices like the hundreds of little ones we make every day are easy, and we do them without much effort. These can be as simple as what to eat for breakfast or what to wear to work. We don’t sweat these choices.
Another level of life choices is those that can impact our lives more profoundly. Having to make bigger life-changing decisions can be confusing and scary for some of us. We wonder and second guess ourselves and keep turning things over and over attempting to make sure it is the right decision.
I don’t think there is any way to know ultimately how a choice will play out over time. Life has no guarantees, and all we can do is assess the options and make the one we feel will best move us forward to our goal.
Right now you could be asking yourself
What if something goes wrong? My answer to that is yes something could go wrong; life always has that outcome no matter what we choose. You may also think that if you don’t choose then you will be ok and if it goes wrong, it’s not your fault.
I believe that not choosing is as much a choice as directly making a choice. My kids always hear me say “make the choice or the choice makes you”. That means choose or life will choose for you, and you may not like where that choice goes.
Fall down seven times stand up eight.
If you choose and something goes wrong, you can choose again and edit your path along the way. By doing this, you are building up your choosing muscles. You are learning how to make choices, fall down and get up again and keep going. That’s how we all learn.
What affects our choices?
Your choices determine your life, plain and simple. Every choice we make will depend on who we are, where we are in life, what we want out of life and our ability to evaluate those choices in a way that allows us to see our options.
Most choices have positive aspects and negative ones, and we have to determine what works for us. Will our choice get us what we want, will it move us toward our goal or will it set us back and make life more challenging. There are so many factors to consider, and for everyone, the circumstance will be different and so the answer will also be different.
People in our lives also influence our choices. We may not want to offend someone or make a choice that makes a loved one mad. Maybe the choice we make is what we think someone else wants us to do, instead of choosing what is right for us.
Our choices can be affected by many things including family, peers, society, culture and our own personal desire.
There are so many aspects to consider when it comes to big life choices it’s no wonder we get overwhelmed and stuck in life.
For example, I can be more adventurous, my mother and sister are more conservative with their choices. We could all want the same thing but may not be comfortable with making the changes necessary to achieve our goals.
Choice can mean change… my story.
Making a choice that changes either something in your life or maybe even changes your life entirely can be scary.
A couple of years ago I was in an unhappy life and an 18-year marriage. I needed out. At some point making that choice was overwhelming since I had made a choice to be there in the first place and it worked out so horribly. Somewhere in my head, the voices were saying what if you choose again and it goes wrong next time. Better to stick with the horrible you know.
Even though those voices ate at me for a long time, I still arrived at a choice of change. It was either leave or die there sad and unhappy, and that wasn’t good enough, I wanted out. Needing to change my life was made more out of fear than anything else.
Fear of growing old stuck in that miserable life and dying there as well gave me the courage to finally make a choice and have a new life.
I had no idea where that choice would lead me, and I decided I was open to anything new. I had lost who I was and wanted to find me again. Just FYI to anyone reading this I was 58 when I made this choice to change my life. You are never too old to find your happiness.
There was a lot to learn about me after 20 years, and it has been the best journey ever.
My choice was to leave that life behind, take what I needed and move several states away. Because I needed space to define me and break the dysfunctional cycle that had become my life, the distance gave me time and space to accomplish that.
That one choice changed my whole life!
Sometimes we don’t see where choices lead.
Maybe we aren’t supposed to know where it will take us; perhaps we need to have faith and courage to make a change. It’s a chance we all have to be willing to take. The cost is worth it for some and not for others. Some of us roll with the changes and some of us cant handle the ride. Your personal attitude on life and how you handle change also is a factor in what choices you make.
Big life-changing choices are where some people get stuck this can be a paralyzing place, but it can also be a life-changing one in a way you never imagined. Which one depends on you, your viewpoint, your ability to welcome change and your desire for that change.
I’m not advocating everyone just up and take off and start a new life. What I am saying is that you should think about what you want in your life and how you can move forward to achieve those goals. I made the choice that worked for me.
Ways to evaluate choices
Here are a few things you can do when you are faced with choices that mean change in your life.
- Make a list, two columns, list pros and cons
- who will the choice effect
- Write out a journal entry or two to help you figure out why you desire this change, and how your choice will affect you and your life. Writing can reveal things to us we may not have recognized
- Ask people who you value for advice. Consider this information and make use of what you feel applies to you.
- Consider people who are living a life you want as people to speak to; ex: you wouldn’t ask someone who is deep in credit card debt for financial advice.
- Seek people who can help you talk things out and think things through.
Spend time thinking about your options
After you have thought about your choices and looked at all the pros and cons, let it sit, think about it for a bit. Imagine yourself in that new choice, how does it feel? Make the choice that is right for you.
I am sure there are many more aspects of choice and life to talk about here, things to consider, things to fear and so much more. We could beat that subject to death and literally talk ourselves out of choosing anything. At some point, we have to choose to change or choose to stay the same. Otherwise, the state of agonizing over the possibilities will cause constant stress and anxiety.
Maybe you are ready, and perhaps you aren’t, only you can know that for sure. Only you can choose what’s right for you, your life and whoever shares that life with you.
Let me share a bit of my mother’s story here as we end this discussion.
Perhaps my life and that of my mothers have always held weight in my choosing. She had lived her life in controlling marriages, and I had always desired to not follow that as a life choice.
My inspiration for writing this was prompted by my mothers passing. It wasn’t only that she had died, but more about how she had lived; dots were connected after her passing.
She had been in 2 abusive marriages; the last one is where she was finally beaten down with criticism and emotional abuse that was insidious and took its toll slowly over time. We all knew it was there to an extent, but it was much worse than initially thought. I am not even sure she realized the power that miserable life had over her. He destroyed her spirit and thus her.
Time went by
Things got said over the years, but my mother was not willing to change and leave that life. Now I see it more as not able to leave that life. (There is a form of Stockholm syndrome that happens in abusive, controlling relationships that disable people from choosing for themselves. I believe that fits her life. Hindsight, unfortunately, is always 20/20)
At the end her body, it turns out was riddled with cancer and tumors for many years and she never told anyone or sought medical attention. He had moved her up to that beautiful home, or maybe it was more like a prison, on that mountain and isolated her. So it was easy to hide life and her health from the world. It is also part of what broke her.
As he became ailing in his health and age the more abusive he was and the more depressed she was.
No one honestly knew how bad things were, until the end and she gave her all to that life, to a man who destroyed her spirit and her life. When asked why she never told anyone, she said cause she had to care for him, he came first.
This is a life where someone was so beaten down over time, 30 plus years, that they genuinely put the abuser first in all things. This cost my mother her happiness and her life. Maybe she would have died from cancer anyway, but if she had a more considerate husband, someone who cherished her spirit instead of destroying it, perhaps she would have been cared for, encouraged to seek medical help, treasured for the beautiful wife she was and died a happier lived life.
To me, that is a life not lived but survived.
While I can’t choose for anyone else, and it breaks my heart she was stuck there and miserable I can only make better choices in this life for me. I can look at her life and see just how long we can get stuck in an unhappy place and that we can also die there if we don’t make an effort to choose something better for ourselves.
In the end, we are each responsible for our life choices or non-choices. This also makes us accountable for our happiness.
Choose to live a life you want, whatever that is!
5 Interesting Ted Talks about making choices
I love Ted Talks, you get 15 to 20 minutes of some interesting talks on lots of great subjects. If you haven’t checked the site out you please do.
Choice making has many different aspects to it and it can be challenging to know what choice to make or even how to think of it in a way that helps us along. These 5 people give their opinions of the making of choice.
The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
In honor of a life not lived but survived, to a beautiful woman who was a good wife, I dedicate these thoughts to you, mom.
May we all learn from the lives of others to think about what it is we want and go out and make it happen. Even if we are stuck, it’s not too late to redirect our lives and live ones that bring us happiness.