Let’s chat about making choices.
And of course, living with the consequences of those choices. Which can be hard.
Suppose I wanted to climb Mount Everest.
That would be my decision – a choice I’d made.
I’d have to do a lot of preparation and – being me – I’d spend months and months online, doing “research”.
My research would cover the gamut of mountaineering, from which boots to wear when facing a Himalayan summer (warm ones, preferably headed to the tropics) – to which tent is best suited to sleeping on the side of an imposing great hulk of rock.
I’d consider the food I’d need to take, the best kind of ruck sack, how to get enough air, and where to find a therapist to help me through my mania and keep here, where things are nice and “normal”, rather than teetering on the side of some distant mountain clearly bent on my personal annihilation.
Now, I love me a good hike. And I am addicted to the imposing majesty of mountain peaks. I’m also a graduate of the “if-you’re-gonna-do-it-be-the-best-at-it” school of over achievement. So if I were to invest serious time and effort into this wannabe hobby, it’s not entirely outside of the realms of possibility that I would consider tackling Everest.
As Terry Pratchett made clear, “This I (might) choose.”
But here’s the thing about choices. Just because you choose something, that doesn’t make it easy. Or fun all the time. Sometimes it doesn’t even turn out to have been particularly pleasant at all.
In some cases, in fact, the choices we make kind of happen by accident. One tiny flap of a butterfly’s wing over here sets off a chain of events whose end e can’t hope to predict or even imagine. It just plays out before us (sometimes without us consciously realising the part we’ve had to play in all this drama). And the next thing we know, there we are. Mired in insurmountable drama.
In the last few weeks I’ve been chatting to a few of my friends (as you do). And we all seem to be facing the consequences of our choices in various aspects of our lives. Maybe it’s a natural by-product of getting older – both living long enough to see the outcomes of the path we’ve headed down (which is a blessing), and having the clarity to recognise the role we’ve played in getting to where we are (which, frankly, is a bit of a mixed bag in the blessing department).
The thing that strikes me every time I chat to these fine folk is a single line they all seem to repeat: “I know I chose this. It’s self-inflicted. I only have myself to blame.”
Well – sure. Okay. Great job on accepting responsibility for where you are in life. Let’s face it: no one can change your life but you.
But just because you chose it, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Just because you got yourself to wherever you may be on your personal journey, that doesn’t mean you need to go the rest of the way alone.
We can’t always predict the results of the tiny, seemingly insignificant choices we make along the way until it’s way too late. And while it’s mature – and even healthy – to recognise that we’ve had a part to play in getting to the place we’re at now, that doesn’t mean we’re to blame for it.
Frankly, blame shouldn’t even be a part of the equation.
And it doesn’t mean we don’t deserve compassion, support, and maybe even real, practical help. Many of us face obstacles we need to surmount – our very own Everests. No one can face a mountain alone. We need each other to achieve goals. Often, we need each other just to help us identify the goals in the first place.
And we certainly need help to get to where we’re headed. Because no matter how each of us got to wherever we are now, you can be sure not one of us did it alone.
So if you’re feeling stuck in a morass of guilt, blame – maybe even self-pity – and you feel like you need to pull yourself out of it all by yourself, maybe take a minute to stop being so hard on yourself.
Your experience is no less challenging, painful or – above all – valid just because you chose it. And just because it’s your path, and the result of your choices, that doesn’t mean you have to walk it alone.