We tell ourselves we can’t. We tell ourselves we shouldn’t. We tell ourselves we have no choice.
But we do. We always have a choice.
Sometimes our choices help us, sometimes they hurt us, and sometimes they help or hurt others. But it’s important that we see them for what they are: decisions that we have the power to make.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in my own life. I am an incredibly creative person with about 1,000 dreams and hopes for the future. I want to experience it all. But the truth is, that would be physically impossible. I have to set priorities and make choices. That’s part of life.
When I was a junior and senior in high school, I was attending a boarding school in Arizona, recovering from an eating disorder and working through my anxiety. I had always dreamed of going to an art school and becoming an actress on Broadway. But when it came time to send out the applications and audition tapes, I couldn’t do it. Instead I applied only to my safety school, my parents alma mater, a campus I had grown up visiting. I traded my dream to follow my gut and focus on me for a little while. It wasn’t an easy decision, but that choice saved my life.
We face choices every day; big ones, small ones, choices we don’t even know that we have. I used to operate my life out of “have to’s”. I have to go to work, make dinner, work out, volunteer, read that book, attend that event. Of course, all of those things can be good things to do. If you want to have a house, clothes, and food, you should probably go to work. I choose to workout every day, because when I don’t I am Cruella De Vil’s worst nightmare, but I don’t have to; It’s my choice.
It may seem a little irresponsible to give ourselves permission not to do things. But the point isn’t to back out of every responsibility because we can, it’s about giving ourselves the power to make choices. In every situation we have the capability to say yes or no in response. Sometimes the choices we make will backfire, sometimes they will prove to be freeing, but regardless, they are our choices to make. We need to remind ourselves of that instead of living under the assumption that we are enslaved by the “have to’s”.
You may be wondering how to handle the times when you regret a choice you have made. How do we live with ourselves when a choice that we made of our own volition causes immense pain to ourselves or others? I can tell you that I have quite a lot of experience in this particular area. I second-guess almost all of my choices, regardless of whether they have negative consequences or not. I play out scenarios in my mind and beat myself up for things in the past. Let me tell you, it’s not helpful. The relationship that we have with ourselves, and our choices are crucial to success. If we’re constantly ripping ourselves apart for our choices, we are tearing apart the very things that make us, us.
If nothing else, we need to stand on our own side, and look at the choices we have made with courage and power. We can assess them and make different ones in the future, but standing there slamming the choices we have made destroys our relationship with ourselves. For one reason or another, in that moment, that was the best we could come up with. It’s time to honor those parts of ourselves and learn from the past.