Home > Career, Choices > Life as a series of choices

Life as a series of choices

I think on the most powerful things you can do to be happy is to see your life as a series of choices rather than the result of external, unchangeable forces.  I remember watching as one of the families I worked with in the childcare center came close to falling apart.  The mom hated her job, missed being with her son, was pregnant with her second child, and had been told by her husband that she had to keep working after the baby was born because they couldn’t afford for her to stay home.  The thing is, they really couldn’t afford for her to keep working, either.  Their son was at risk of being thrown out of the childcare center because he was biting 2-3 children a day and the mom was constantly on the brink of tears.  But they owned a McMansion and drove two brand new SUVs, so they needed the two incomes, no matter what the emotional cost to the family.

I understand how people can feel trapped in that situation – they see the monthly bills and think “I can’t afford to quit.”  So few people see the monthly bills as choices that they have control over.  You can choose to live somewhere smaller and less expensive, choose to trade in the expensive SUVs for cheaper models, choose to cancel cable, change the phone plan, use less gas by cutting down on driving, eat out less often – the list of possibilities is long.  But when people don’t see their lives for all of the small choices that create them, they feel powerless to change – stuck in a job or situation they hate because they can’t envision an alternative.

Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or powerless I work hard to identify my choices.  Low bank balance?  I think about what spending I can cut this week and whether there are recurring costs I can reduce or eliminate.  I also think about what work I’ve done recently – have I been spending more time with friends or watching TV than I have on billable work?  If so, I can start fixing my cash flow by choosing work over play until things are in balance.  Want to move to Austin but feel trapped by the amount of stuff I have?  I start thinking hard about what I can donate or lend so that I’m more mobile and flexible.

And when I found myself in a job that was abusive and demoralizing, I made a lot of choices: to take control of my daily work, to prepare my office for a transition, and to leave as soon as possible.  Having a clear long-term goal and focused short-term tasks helped me insulate myself from the worst of the work environment and regain control of my life.  Without a sense of agency, a sense that I could make different choices, I would have sunk.  Instead, I found my way out, stronger, I hope, for the experience.

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