Recently I was talking to two individuals and the conversations dealt with the issue of the inner conflict one experiences when you stand at a crossroads and have to make a decision about two very different choices and what to do with your life. I thought it might be useful to share with you their stories.
What prompted the first conversation was the allure of a job in western Canada, which would require this man to relocate and he’s essentially paralyzed with indecision. He’s weighed the pros and cons as he knows or guesses them, and I sense is wanting someone else to make his decision for him; namely me.
The second conversation just happened to be with a fellow later in the afternoon of the same day. He was lamenting not having jumped at a chance to take a job much earlier in his life. As it turns out, he grew bitter with his spouse and never forgave her for holding him back and not allowing him to run his own business. The bitterness festered as he hated all the work he did for others, and eventually squabbles turned to arguments, arguments to fights and fights led to a divorce. The entrepreneur opportunity fizzled as investment money dried up and he totally blames his lost riches and dependence on social assistance on the ex-wife. Sad.
Now both as you see illustrate a point in time where each was presented with a choice; and in both situations that choice would profoundly affect the longer term jobs, lifestyles and conditions under which each would live, not to mention potential income earnings. As I listened to each person, I was struck with the remembrance of many situations in my own life where I stood at a crossroads and contemplated pros and cons of varying courses of action. In my own case, I was able to share and explore options with my wife, and now years later looking back, can recall those moments clearly and the decisions made with little regret.
The first man had no such hindrance of other people to consider and had this on his pro list. Alone in this world, part of his problem ironically was that without someone else to get involved with the decision, he knew his success or failure was 100% his decision and I think that gripped him with fear of the choice. How interesting from my side of the table. He said two or three times, “What should I do?” Once changing it significantly to, “What would you do?” I told him I wasn’t going to make it that easy for him.
The second discussion was actually full of sorrow, missed opportunity, and a loving relationship poisoned to the point where to this day, the downturned mouth and facial lines have this man’s face in a constant scowl of discontent and bitterness. He believed that as the head of the family he had the right to take his chance, (which he says was a sure thing) and she should have been behind him. I interjected taking a chance and suggested that was the problem in a nutshell; they should have stood together as equals in that decision, not her behind him. All these years that chip on his shoulder has grown in size and weighed him down, snowballing into greater anger and further employment lost due to an attitude that leaves little room for dealing with in his words, “dumb employers”.
I think it is one of our great gifts as humans to have choices in our lives. Choices present us with opportunities to weigh our options, explore and recognize our own values, and with those choices comes both the excitement and burden of carrying forth the responsibility of choices made. Little choices don’t typically create much anxiety or it passes quickly, as in the case of what to wear to work on a given day. Big choices require more thought, and major life decisions may only come along once during our time on the planet, never to come again under the same circumstances.
When faced with the extremely big choices, sure a list of pros and cons is valuable, as is doing an assessment of ones assets. And by assets I don’t mean only your bank account and possessions. I mean your strengths, experience, attitude, values, beliefs etc. The other thing that’s essential is the next step which is to take courageous action. Many times something desired involves an element of risk, a leap of faith, the courage to struggle when an easier option might be better taken in the view of others and it takes intestinal fortitude and a burning desire for change.
Counterbalancing all of this may be one’s responsibilities, the impact of your decision on others and their willingness or resistance to getting behind your idea. However, it serves little value to look back on that decision and beat yourself up for making it as you did years later. At the time, if you considered all the possibilities it may well have been the right decision at that time and best then to move forward without regret.
Having said this, when a choice impacts on others, as in the case of a family and spouse, its paramount to enter into discussions with respect for your partners views, their dreams, their expectations and hopes; where you stand as equals. It may be your life, but it takes two to make a partnership.