A few years ago my classmates and I got into a debate about the idea of choice. The question was, "Is it fair to say that if you want something you just have to choose to go and get it?" After a long and fairly intense discussion of the different perspectives involved we still couldn't quite say yes or no but we had definitely established that this was not simply a yes or no question. There were far too many factors to consider, and I was left feeling, as I often do in situations like this one, both frustrated with the lack of answer and with the demand for an answer in the first place. You see I grew up loving math and logic and the challenge of figuring something out and knowing that you had found the right answer. I still love the hard, objective, black and white, clear, direct, straightforward, and simple. However, I am continually drawn to the soft, subjective, gray, murky, indirect, complex, and puzzling. Frustrated as I may be, I am intrigued, and I am learning more and more that most matters fall into the second category, whether they indeed start there or are dragged there by context and circumstances.
To come back to our question, the answer seems like it should be an easy, simple, straightforward "yes": if you want something just make the choice and go and get it. You may have heard some motivational quotes, sayings, and videos like this one that seem to support this, including by Will Smith's character in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness. And, to an extent, this is true, and can be a helpful motivator for some people. We all have the same number of hours in the day and days in the year; we all get to make choices everyday that affect our future; we are all capable of far more than we may ever know and if we continue to make the right choices and prioritize those choices we can achieve great things.
Seems pretty straightforward right? But when you start to talk to people - when you start to look a little deeper at the context surrounding those choices, and the circumstances of people's lives - you realize that we all have different demands and commitments within those same hours and days; we all have different requirements for things like sleep and down time in order to continue to function in a healthy way; we all have different priorities in life; and we all have different circumstances and obstacles to overcome. It is these differences that make the answer to our question more likely a subjective, complex, murky "yes…but".
In the days after our discussion, I happened upon a quote that seemed to help support and explain this "yes…but" answer. The quote says, "You don't get to choose your choices - you just get to make the ones you're given." In other words, if you want something AND YOU HAVE THE CHOICE, just make the choice and go get it. Now that's not to say that you can't make choices that will open up other choices and so on and so forth, but it's just not as simple as we sometimes make it out to be. There are always uncontrollables in life and sometimes those uncontrollables hijack our choices and derail our plans. Remember that the one choice you always have is how you will respond to a situation. You may not be able to make the choice you wanted to, but you can always make a choice to move forward in a positive direction from where you are. To be clear I am not advocating for making excuses or giving up on your dreams because things get hard. I am, however, advocating for self-care, compassion, understanding, and a healthy, realistic outlook.
The second really big caveat I'll add to our initial question is that just because you have the choice does NOT mean it is the right choice for you at the time. Too many people end up feeling guilty because they chose a different path or prioritized another area of life. Just because other people have made that choice, or think you could/should make that choice, does not inherently make it the right choice for you. Your values and priorities in life are your own - don't let anyone make you feel guilty for choosing your own path and pursuing your own goals.
1. You always have a choice - even if it is just your response.
2. You don't get to choose your choices, but you can make choices that will open up more choices in the future.
3. Don't ever feel guilty for making your own choice and prioritizing what is important to you - success looks different for different people.
Have you ever felt guilty for giving up on or not pursuing a goal? How did you move forward and through that guilt? What is the hardest decision you've ever made and what helped you make it? Share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences with us in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.