I hate to be the one to remind y’all, but we’re on a collision course with the New Year. Traditionally, a time for renewal, fresh starts, resolutions, and commitment to life changes. And for some, a booze-soaked blackout to avoid making choices. I embrace this opportunity to choose change. I will wax prophetic, extol the virtues of, and generally make known my love for my power to choose. As Americans, we revere but then take for granted our freedoms to choose our thoughts and our words.
Sometimes we would rather chew off our own limbs than make a choice. But make them we must; daily. Good choices can lead us to fabulousness. Not choosing can rob us of opportunity. Knowing we made a good choice can be exhilarating and a bad one, devastating. First, I’ll clarify what I think choices aren’t. If exceptions prove the rule, then what are our non-choices?
We don’t choose to be born. We are beholden to many people for their “begetting,” as well as a few higher powers, for our actual creation. As for our relatives and relations, there’s no choice there too. Blood is blood. Although my longtime friends are much more like family than my actual family, it is advisable to maintain positive relationships with a few of your blood kin. You never know when you’ll be in need of a new kidney.
Genetic predispositions are among our non-choices as well. Given my druthers, I wouldn’t choose a pear shaped body, a wandering eye, or the DNA that predisposes me to develop breast cancer. I’ve heard that if you keep you exercise regularly and laugh a lot, you may detour your body from its possible DNA destination. You are what you eat and what you think.
Although I am blessed with genetic makeup that helps me look younger than others my age, I will still get old despite my attempts to deny or disguise it. I saw this change when the skin of my hands was flapping under the jet dryer in the public bathroom. I foresee scarf tricks in my future. I started running to offset my slowing metabolism. It may prevent my butt from growing but it’s not shrinking it. I am not embarrassed because at least I’m “doing it.”
The logistics of our childhoods i.e. how, where, and by whom we are raised, are usually not up to us. Children have little choice in these circumstances. Adversity can add character. Sadly, being the victim of certain disasters like tsunamis, terror attacks, breaking levees, or Enron’s collapse, are out of our realm of choice. If it doesn’t take you out, you will be stronger for it.
That leaves a lot of choices for us to make. Our daily choices are innumerable. We choose when to wake up, what to wear, who to be with, and how to make our money. We choose who to give our money to, what to believe, and what to expect. We choose what to say, what to digest, and where to place our blame. You’d think we’d be giddy with the power of our choices but we can feel quite overwhelmed.
What’s the difference between a good and a bad choice? Good choices are those that benefit us, our children, or our community. When I drop my son off at daycare, I tell all the kids to make good choices as a reminder that they have the power to choose. I should try, however, to limit the choices I give him. He’d answer “peanut butter and jelly” no matter what the question. Sometimes we need to simplify our own choices as well. I can pile too many “what ifs” and “gottas” on top of the choice sandwich. Maybe we need a decision making class in high school (as well as one in parenting) to prove to ourselves that our choice of nail color will not affect the political climate in the Middle East.
We avoid choice and change like we avoid getting the flu shot. A bad thing disguised as good for us and better left to anyone else. We’d rather stay right here clutching our “used to and should to be’s,” images of our past or future selves. But now is the only time in which we can choose change. We choose powerlessness while wishing for change but refusing to choose. “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice,” proclaim the lyrics of a Rush song. Choosing to not make a choice is a wasted chance. And you are gift wrapping your power for someone else. The receipt of a cut off notice in the mail means someone took an action. Your car stops when you choose not to put gas in it. I have had both these experiences and have learned to choose pride instead of shame.
Fear, as well as guilt and shame, can from paralyze us from making any choice at all, not to mention a good one. Empowerment results from the fearless belief of the possibility of achievement and the entitlement to take care of oneself. You might not know what your options are but you know there must be something better. Choosing misery is unacceptable for us or our kids. The bottom line is that if you believe the possibility is in your future, then it is possible. Your faith will guide your choices to the reality. If you don’t believe you have choices, then there are none. It’s personal entitlement Manifest Destiny (without relocating the Indians).
I have spent the majority of my life feeling I had little choice. Looking back, many of my choices were made to prove what I already believed about the world or myself. Or the choices were ones I thought I was expected to make. I was scared to choose to take care of myself. People fear being disliked, excommunicated, or killed for making choices. Risk has a price and a payoff. After nine years in my abusive marriage, I was able to free myself only after I broke down and admitted I was not a victim of him but of myself. I had chosen to use this man to hurt myself for all those years. I mourned the sacrifice of my precious twenties and then I took my power back and chose to just say no more. I acted “as if” I had self-respect until I eventually did. I chose to have faith in happiness even though I had never experienced it.
As a woman, I feel there is a societal expectation of me to be a caretaker. I accept mothering as my birthright or biological definition as long as it doesn’t preclude my right to establish boundaries or prioritize my needs. Why do we feel we need to ask permission for these rights? Yet we may accept these conditions in order to please our families, religions, and cultures, but in our hearts, we might disagree. We then risk becoming resentful women raising angry children, blaming everyone for our powerlessness to choose. I try to consciously choose to take care of myself by scheduling salon services, doctor’s appointments, or time away. Then I am in a better place to care for my family. We all deserve the best me.
“Yes, but I’m expected to …”or “I can’t because …” sound like reasonable excuses to not choose change. They sound especially good when we say them to the bobble-headed people who agree with us because they too are unentitled to choose. And they would be threatened if we went and upset the applecart with choice. Even little kids know a true cop-out when they hear one. The hardest part about making a decision is making a decision. If you ask yourself right now, “If I had the choice, what would I stop choosing and what I would start?” and you have a glimmer of gleefulness in this thought, I encourage you to seek out people or an organization to support you. And go for it! Our lives are a gift in which we can dream, live, love, and play. We only need to choose to live this life and stop just existing.