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So it’s 9 p.m. and I can barely see straight – that’s what happens after far too many hours of staring at a computer screen. Nonetheless, a challenge is a challenge and I will blog every day in May. 😉

Today’s Topic: The thing(s) you’re most afraid of

I knew this post was coming and I considered skipping it, solely because I had way too many ideas and most of them seemed too personal for this space. While I’ve certainly been open and honest on my blog, I try not to make it a dumping ground for my bad days or a personal journal … and that’s where I could see this post going.

After giving it (too) much thought, I realized there is one overarching thread throughout my life: the fear that I’m always making the wrong decision. Far too much of my time is spent reflecting on choices I’ve made and second-guessing myself. Whether it is what I said to someone, my career path, my relationships, how I spend my spare time – I can always convince myself that the other option would probably have been the better one.

I’m afraid to trust myself.

While I don’t think I’ve necessarily made bad decisions along the way, I can’t help but wonder if my life could have turned out differently. What I need to remind myself is that different is not always better.

 

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve read countless posts and articles about resolutions – some generic, some inspiring, and others – downright ridiculous. I’ve seen the reasons that people make resolutions, and conversely, the argument that New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time. In seeing what others wish to change about themselves and their paths in the coming year, I’ve reflected (probably too much) about what I want to improve about myself. I likely drafted five different blog posts in my head, each one detailing all of the specific changes I was looking to make. And I realized that each one of them pointed to one specific fact.

I’ve never lacked goals or vision. I just tend to make decisions that don’t necessarily align with the end result I am seeking.

And that’s not to say I’m out there making terrible, no good decisions on a regular basis. It just so happens that some of my decisions rely a little more on my heart than my head. And more importantly, while they may not be “bad” decisions, I’m not making the choices I need to at this time in my life. When I look at my life as a larger story, I see that while some choices led me to a greater understanding of myself and what I am looking for, not everything needs to be a lesson.

I need to trust my instincts more. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t worth trying to make it fit. It’s okay to walk away from situations and people and cut my losses early on. That’s something I’ve never excelled at doing, and it’s time that I put that into practice.

Most importantly, I need to measure my decisions next to my goals and vision for my future. Ask myself, “Is this choice pointing me in the direction of my goals, or is it just delaying my progress?” Chances are, many options are the wrong ones. They’re the ones that keep me from getting where I know I really want to be – tomorrow, in six months, in 5 years.

This year, I made some great choices and some not-so-good ones, too. Moving into the new year, I look forward to making more of the right decisions and seeing how much closer I can get to what I truly want and deserve.

“Hard is trying to rebuild yourself, piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are supposed to go.” – Nick Hornby

I’ve met more than a handful of people who say they don’t plan to get married. I’ve heard even more say they don’t intend to have children. And each time, I wondered what their big picture included.

For as long as I can remember, while knowing that I wanted to go to college and have (some sort of) a career, I placed the most value on one day having a family. I said it so many times – my objective was to raise well-adjusted kids. Perhaps my mistake was not setting other definable goals or measures of success. I didn’t have a specific milestone I hoped to reach in any given career; I didn’t have a list of ambitions and aspirations. To a certain point, this served me well and by others’ standards, I’ve been reasonably successful.

I’ve watched my friends and family members get married, have children, graduate medical school, become partners in law firms, start successful businesses and travel the world. Throughout it, I’ve doubted my place on “The Path” more than a few times, but I’ve never questioned where I thought I’d be in the end. It was the only “sure thing” that had been guiding my life to this point.

Lately, I can’t say I’m so sure.

When you’ve judged your entire life’s purpose on one event that may (or may not) happen, how do you hit the reset button and come up with a new plan?

dichotomy (di·chot·o·my): a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities

I was waiting for my flight in the Bermuda airport when I noticed a group of  recent high school graduates. Many of the teenagers were wearing freshly minted hats and t-shirts sporting the names of the colleges they would be attending in the fall. What struck me was the look of hope and happiness that they seemed to share as a collective.

I look back at photos of me at 17, wearing my brand new University of Georgia t-shirt and that identical look, which I now recognize as hope, tempered with just enough arrogance to disguise my trepidation. I remember how eager I was to go away to college; I was so excited to leave New York – to start anew on what was, to be cliché, the beginning of the rest of my life.

Happiness existed because there was so much hope. It seemed, for the first time, that the future was wide open and anything was possible. Fast-forward just a few years in college – I started to realize that I wanted more. Maybe it will be better when I am working, I thought; after all, I’d finally have money to do the things I wanted to do. There could be nothing worse, of course, than being a poor college student.

I eventually discovered that you can be farther down the food chain than a poor college student – you can be an equally poor waitress with a college degree. I knew that my choices to pursue certain dreams led me to the place where I found myself then. But even on my worst days, one thing kept me going.

Hope.

I realized that I was still young and the opportunity to start fresh and get my life in order beckoned. In the face of uncertainty, I remained optimistic. I made small decisions, and I made big and terrifying life-altering decisions. And I did so believing that sacrifice could bring me to a better place.

Seeing that group of graduates reminded me that, lately, I had forgotten about the promise that hope can bring. Realizing what hope looked like on another person’s face reminded me that it wasn’t on mine. I had begun to give up. I let myself be a victim of my own choices and let other people’s choices bring me down.

When I find myself wishing that I could go back and do everything over again, I need to stop and remind myself why I made those choices in the first place. I have to quit looking in reverse and start looking ahead.  And most importantly, I have to stop giving up.  When it seems like everything sucks, that is just the universe’s way of reminding me that giving up on hope is not an option.

Because sometimes all you can do is just keep swimming.

“Her green plastic watering can
For her fake Chinese rubber plant
In the fake plastic earth
That she bought from a rubber man
In a town full of rubber plans
To get rid of itself
It wears her out, it wears her out”
– “Fake Plastic Trees”
Radiohead

I will start off this post on somewhat of a tangent. I try to include an image in every one of my posts; usually I will think of a word or concept and search within Google Images (it’s fun, try it!) For this one, I was searching “100th birthday cakes.” All these (kind of funny) photos of little old ladies kept surfacing. You know what? I’d feel guilty putting someone’s great-great-grandma in this blog post. But Olive, whoever you are, I hope you had one hell of a party.

Now back to the blog post at hand …

I just celebrated my 31st birthday. I am legitimately unsure how I got here.

I remember at some point in my life (probably college … early college), thinking that my master plan was: married at 24, kid at 26, kid at 28. I also was planning to wedge an extremely successful marketing career with an über cool surf company in there. To sum it up, everything would happen before 30.

Turning 30 secretly terrified me because I felt like I was behind. I had, both by choice and not-choice (fate?), not achieved any of these milestones. I knew for all the years leading up to 30 that it was coming. Yet when the day came, I felt rather blindsided.

I was supposed to “find myself” in my 20s, while simultaneously doing everything that would be considered unforgivable once I turned the decade’s corner. I was expected to have a Plan – have it all figured out – with a tidy list of “next steps” for my 30s. And I didn’t.

Earlier today, a friend was telling me about a meeting he had with his accountant, who has known him since “he was a fetus.” Most likely trying to be well-intentioned (or possibly just meddling), his accountant said, “You’re not getting any younger. Maybe you should think about a career change.”

Seriously? In the seemingly endless list of people who can try to dictate your life’s expectations and/or offer advice, I was unaware that your family’s accountant should be included.

With the advent of each birthday, some well-meaning person always tells me, “Oh! (Fill in the blank) was a great year for me!” This truism is usually followed by some type of generic statement like, “You’ll really know what you want out of your life.”

Well, isn’t that awesome. Because all along, I haven’t known what I wanted? Not so much.

And then along came 31.

You know what will make this a “great year for me?” Not comparing where I am in life to where other people are. Not looking at what I have actually accomplished, against an arbitrary list of  things I should have accomplished. Erasing the mindset that if I didn’t do it by 30, I can’t/won’t ever do it.

Because right now for me, the most important thing is thinking about the next day – the next week – and realizing that (to use another cliché) you’re better off late than never. And if I’m going to be fashionably late to the party, I’m might as well be happy.

“Everybody knows, it sucks to grow up”
– “Still Fighting It”
Ben Folds

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