A funny thing about choice is that we often don’t feel like we have it – but we are never without it. When people come to me trying to figure out how to improve some difficulty or another I explore with them what choices they are making to create or enable the situation to be what it is. After all, it always takes two to tango.
The thing is that when we uncover the ways someone is actually making things be what they are – or at least not stopping it from being that way – they often deny that they could do it differently. “I don’t have any other choice!” they cry out.
I know the feeling – but it’s always an illusion.
When I was in my final year of high school I had an extremely difficult and painful time. A confluence of events and situations left me totally overwhelmed and at cracking point. I was in a sorry state and I didn’t know what to do. Then, a conversation with my mother one day profoundly shifted how I understood the concept of choice. It was a moment of sheer brilliance on her part – probably borne out of her own desperation about what was going on with me. You know when you watch someone you love choose things that make them feel terrible – and then they come and complain to you…
So I was complaining to her one day, listen, I had real reason to complain, most of what was going on was not in my control but nonetheless, there I was expressing my desperation and overwhelm and she turned to me and said, “Well if it’s so bad and you’re so unhappy you could always leave school.”
Was she totally mad? Drop out of school half-way through my final year? Who the hell would do that? Why?
I’m sure I was very tactful about questioning her sanity, after all I was a teenager at the time – and I laid out my argument.
“I can’t leave now. I’ve got responsibilities. What will people think? No-one does that! And what about finishing school and graduating? I’m too close to give up now. Like hello? Who gives up right at the end? Duh! And what would I do instead anyway?”
Did I mention how eloquent I was?
Her response was a calm, casual, “So you are choosing to stay then?”
What?! Did this woman not understand anything? I had just told her how I was trapped. I HAD to be in school. I HAD to fulfill my responsibilities. Things sucked. I had NO choice.My life was hard and I couldn’t do anything about it – and she was saying I was choosing it?
So I explained to her again, s l o w l y .
She responded with, “Well you can choose to leave.”
So this went round in circles for a while – me getting more and more frustrated, trying to make her see my powerlessness and feeling misunderstood and her retaining a miraculous calm and saying I could choose until suddenly I GOT it. The situation was what it was but I had a choice in it. I could stay and make a plan or I could leave. I had choice. I was not as powerless as I thought I was. I left the conversation very thoughtful.
After that I stayed in school and finished out the year but felt like it was my own journey rather than something foisted on me. It made it easier to deal with other things consciously too which made it all a bit easier and in the end I made it through.
We always have choice. The choice may look like it’s between a rock and a hard place but we have the choice. We can stay or walk away. We can react or not react. We can speak out or keep silent. We can open our hearts or close them. We can choose to look or choose to look away. We can choose to grow and glow or choose to hide and stay small.
You always have choice.