by Peggy Vaughan
We often feel that we have no real "choice" about many aspects of our lives. In fact, as I look back, I realize that I spent many years living by "assumption" - never really feeling like I was making choices. Part of this was because I was focusing on whatever I was "giving up" instead of what I was "getting" from the path I took.
But in fact, we have a great deal more choice than we think. It's just that ALL choices involved trade-offs, and we're constantly determining within ourselves which trade-offs we can best live with. So we are always "choosing" - even though it may not feel like it.
When confronted with the idea that we're choosing how to live our lives, our first reaction may be "Yes, Butů" - as we point out all the barriers that prevent us from living our lives by choice. Some of the most common reasons/excuses include: 1) our past history, 2) our relationships, 3) uncontrollable events, 4) conflicting goals, 5) money constraints, and 6) our "image" of who we are.
1) Our Past History is often blamed for a lot of our problems - because we feel the "baggage" we carry from our childhood has "made us the way we are" and limited our options in life. However, I'm very fond of a statement from transactional analysis that says: "Who you are may be your parents' fault; but if you stay that way, it's your own fault."
2) Our Relationships (especially as women) tend to lead us to feel that we sacrifice our personal desires for the sake of others - when, in fact, this kind of "sacrifice" often simply represents the fact that our "desire" to feel that we are a "supportive/nurturing/responsible person" is greater than our "desire" for whatever personal goal we feel we're sacrificing - which means we're actually choosing what is MOST important to us personally.
3) Uncontrollable Events tend to feel like they take away all choice - in that we certainly wouldn't choose some of the difficult issues we face in life. However, even in the midst of uncontrollable events, we have a choice as to how to RESPOND to them. (For instance, I've been kidded about the fact that instead of spending the rest of my life silently suffering about my husband's affairs many years ago - I wound up "making a career out of it" by working to help others. Clearly, I DID make a choice.)
4) Conflicting Goals, another seemingly insurmountable obstacle to making choices, is simply the point at which the idea of "trade-offs" comes in. (You can have most "anything" you want, but not "everything" - at least not at the same time.) This just means that you choose between conflicting goals based on identifying and acting in accordance with your personal values and priorities.
5) Money constraints are often cited as a barrier to pursuing our choices in life. I recall clearly how (in 1973 when we were living in Pittsburgh), we decided to move to Hilton Head, South Carolina. (This resulted from our having personally gone through our own Life-Planning Workbook to get clarity about our values and priorities.) But MANY people said, "I wish I could afford to do that" - as if we had some financial security that allowed us to make this move. We did NOT; we simply decided that the trade-offs were worth it - based on the idea that "Security is either having more - or needing Less."
6) Our "Image" of Who we Are sometimes holds us back from making some choices. We can't envision ourselves doing something different - because we often identify ourselves by our "roles." But a role is only a task; it's not our identity. Getting in touch with who you really are as a person (outside the various roles you play) can be very helpful in making clearer choices about how to live your life.
So since we're always choosing (even when it doesn't "feel" like it), we're always in control of our lives after all. And simply recognizing that we ARE making choices can help alleviate the feelings that we're not in control. The task for each of us is to get clear about what is MOST important to us at any given point in our lives - and go for it.
Of course, we need to be honest with ourselves about the specific personal values and priorities that determine the choices we make. This awareness can help us make changes in our lives that more nearly reflect our priorities - as well as help us recognize the many areas where we're already living according to our priorities; (we're just so distracted by the trade-offs that we fail to realize it). We can be so much better satisfied with our lives when we take full responsibility for the fact that we are not "victims" - but are always living our lives by choice.