Reflection – 30 (or 45) days of choice

The outcomes of this activity were very surprising for me, especially when I was doing it in conjunction with 30 days of being wrong. There were really two aspects of 30 days of choice: understanding my definitions of success; and being more conscious about all of the random aspects of the choices that I make.

Starting with success
The thing about Alain de Botton’s talk that really resonated with me when I first watched it was the aspect of envying others by making comparisons that are not realistic, but we feel they are. I’ve mentioned a number of times during this project that I have never really had a life plan or vision for my life, and this talk really pointed out that I need to understand what success looks like for me.

I had been primed for this through a number of other activities in the project so far, but mainly from 30 days of drive. This meant that coming up with success statements for all aspects of my life was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I’m not saying that they are complete at this point in time, but they are a good indication of what I think a successful life looks like for me.

These statements have already been used twice when I was judging myself against other people’s achievements. Not only did they remind me that what these people had achieved is not even in my definition of success, but that one of the achievements would have required that person to make commitments and sacrifices that I am quite frankly not willing to make. It’s a nice leveller and something I will definitely try to keep in mind in future.

Onto actual choices
I was successful in limiting my choices and being generally more aware of my thoughts and feelings when making choices during this time. This definitely had an impact, I was more considered in my choices and didn’t just buy something for the sake of it when none of the choices were quite right. I have never put such a concerted effort into making choices as I have over the last 45 days, and there were still a few outcomes that I wasn’t very happy with, but at least I know that I considered all of the possibilities when making them.

Some of the bigger choices included:

  • what colour to dye my hair (happy with blonde but didn’t quite come out as I pictured it – fairly happy with choice)
  • where to go for a holiday next month (important things were price and being able to take Lily with us – will advise after we’ve been)
  • a few visual decisions on the house we’re building (mainly colours around windows and how they will look against the walls – happy with decisions at this stage)
  • a few pretty major choices about how the project I’m working on would be approached and how the work would be done (mainly the census questions and structure – happy with the final product, although I did miss something pretty major I’m now having to fix).

And the surprising aspects?
The semi-surprising thing is that I don’t like the amount of choice we have in our lives. Who needs to be able to choose from over a dozen varieties of shampoo or toothpaste? And what really are the differences between them anyway? I know that I live in a capitalist society and I am supposed to revel in the large variety of choices that are available to me in all aspects of my life, but sometimes a benevolent dictatorship or even a utopian socialist community would be so much easier.

Don’t get me wrong, if all of these choices were taken away tomorrow I would bitch and protest with the best of them, but sometimes the sheer amount of choice that we have in our lives is so overwhelming that I just want someone to tell me what to pick. And this is not just for consumer products, I really see the appeal of having your career or life partner chosen for you – not that I would trust my parents to do it, but given some of the decisions I’ve made they couldn’t have done much worse 🙂

The greater surprise for me is that I’ve realised that for the majority of my life I’ve allowed choices and decisions to be made for me. By this I mean that I have not been a very active participant in the direction and choices in my life. I’ve just moved along with the choices that have become available to me, I haven’t made things happen for myself. I have also missed out on opportunities because I have avoided making choices when there was a need to.

But it is so much more than this, I have been so scared of actively making choices and creating opportunities because what if I get it wrong? It’s easier to just take the options that present themselves particularly if they aren’t different or risky, because there are so many things I could do or be in this life, and there are so many ways I could fail. Funnily enough, it is when I have been at these crossroads in my life that I have made the worst choices imaginable. But in each situation, they were the simple choice that didn’t require risks, that I could look back on and think “well it wasn’t what I planned on, life just got in the way” when they failed.

Take my first marriage for instance, and this is another moment where I’m sharing more than I had ever planned on in this forum. I met my first husband at a point in my life where I was at a complete loss for where I was going and what I was going to do. I had just completed my honours year at university, and had decided that I wouldn’t stay on to do a Diploma of Education to become a teacher (something I had thought I would do for the three years prior to this). I had become so busy doing my thesis that I had effectively distanced myself from the few friends that I had in my life, and it had been well over eight months since anyone had shown any romantic interest in me. Added to this, I now realise that my mental health was really not all that great for the last couple of years I was at university, and this was really quite a low point in that time.

So, rather than sitting down and making a plan for my future and what I would do now that I had finished study; or taking a risk and telling the person I had a crush on for four years how I felt about them; or putting myself out there to try to re-engage with the friends who meant so much to me; I made no active decision about my future at all. Instead, life threw this train-wreck of a relationship at me and I felt it was easier to just take it and go along with the flow (yes I had a very messed up concept of ‘easy’). That way I didn’t have to take any risks, I didn’t have to make any plans that might fail, I didn’t have to put myself in situations where I might be rejected and hurt, and I had one anchor point in a complete time of flux.

I hope that this is making some sense, it’s become quite clear in my head but I don’t know that I’m explaining it that well.

This hasn’t always been the case in my life, I have had moments of clarity about what I want and where I want to be. When my first marriage broke up I came up with a list of three things I had always wanted to do: skydive, go to Florence and join the Air Force. Within twelve months of coming up with that list I had done all three of these, and the sense of achievement around this was huge. But then I hit another bout of feeling completely ungrounded and not knowing how things would turn out, and husband number two came into my life.

Anyway, all of this is to say that over the last eight or nine years I have been a much more active participant in the choices about my life, and I feel much happier about it as a result. But thinking back about all of these things I realise that at times I do still abrogate responsibility for the decisions in my life. It’s usually not the big things any more, but that tendency still exists.

In summation
This activity has been really important in helping me understand quite a few things about myself. I highly recommend that everyone do the success statements part of this activity. It is amazing how powerful writing this down can be in settling down the envy that you might have of others. Don’t get me wrong, there are still people that I feel bad comparing myself against because they have what I want and I think the comparison is fairly valid. But it has become more targeted, and I hope that I can maintain that aspect.

As for choice, I think that I need to maintain an awareness around my choices so I don’t fall back into crappy consumer choices. I also think that this activity has shown me that I need to be more active in making choices, especially the difficult ones, and taking risks in those choices. I will try to maintain this awareness in my life, especially when the next big life decision comes up, since I didn’t have any of those during this 45 days.

What about you? Are you an active participant in the big decisions in your life or do you tend to go with flow and see how it turns out? Surely I’m not the only one guilty of doing this?

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