Choices

I’ve long believed that every choice is both a yes and a no. For everything that I say yes to, I am saying no to something else. Everything that I say no to is a yes to a different choice. It’s always a trade-off.

I tend to go against the cultural norm by saying no to a lot of things that other people say yes to, but in every case, it is because I am saying yes to something that is more valuable to me (even though it doesn’t fit the “norm”).

I have said no to climbing the career ladder and have chosen under-employment because it allows me to say yes to having more of a life with time to do the things that bring me joy. I often say no to social activities because I am saying yes to my need to have time for solitude to recharge and to do my best work.

I value the opportunity to make these choices in order to create a life that suits me, and I am grateful to live in a place that allows me to make these kinds of choices. But sometimes the number of choices that I must make in a day gets overwhelming. Whether it’s choosing a tube of toothpaste from the many shelves full of options or deciding which activities to engage in with friends, each choice requires thought, evaluation, and energy.

Sometimes fewer choices are better! With too many options available, it can be tempting not to ever decide which one option to choose since it means saying no to so many others.

In Plain and Simple: A woman’s Journey to the Amish, Sue Bender says:

Before I went to the Amish, I thought that the more choices I had, the luckier I’d be. But there is a big difference between having many choices and making a choice. Making a choice—declaring what is essential—creates a framework for a life that eliminates many choices but gives meaning to the things that remain. Satisfaction comes from giving up wishing I was somewhere else or doing something else.

I love her distinction between having many choices and making a choice. That’s the place I have so often gotten stuck. I am so busy trying to make sure I keep as many choices available to me as possible, that I miss out on the value of having made a choice of what matters.

The older I get, the more willing I am to let go of keeping many choices available, and the more willing I am to make choices about what matters to me. In fact, I’m increasingly setting limits about what choices I will even consider.

For example, I recently decided to set a limit of no more than one social engagement per week because more than one tends to leave me too drained to do the creative work that matters to me. Of course, there may be times when I bend that rule, but by setting a limit to what I am free to choose, I feel more free to make a choice and act on it because I am protected from having too many choices to pick from.

In other areas of life, I stick with tried and true choices (in foods I eat, the deodorant I use, the brand of dish soap I buy, etc.) so I can make the choice once and just keep acting on it. I don’t have to make a new choice every time. It’s a great simplifier of life.

My choices are often not popular with other people, but I’m learning that making the choices that are right for me means that “the things that remain” are those that bring the greatest meaning to my life. I have to keep reminding myself that I am choosing that which is essential to a life well-lived by my definition of that term rather than choosing what pleases others based on their definition of what my life “should” look like.  It’s still a work in progress, but I am getting there.

What do you think? Do you prefer having more choices or making a choice?

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8 thoughts on “Choices

  1. The “making a choice” framework is compelling! Sent my mind (bear with me) to the monastic vow of stability. I’m neither Catholic nor monastic material, but still: the idea of claiming THIS place, THIS community, THIS ethic as one’s own and to intentionally circumscribe one’s life & choices to these…very countercultural!

    Life’s too short to go after every possibility.

    • It took my mind in a similar direction. I am not monastic material either, nor good enough with hierarchy to be a solitary in a traditional way (like Episcopalian). But I have thought of crafting my own “rule of life” to intentionally circumscribe my life in a way that allows me to focus better on offering my gifts to the world in a way that is healthy and beneficial to others and to me. I may need to revisit that idea …

      Life is indeed too short to go after every possibility … just as rooms are too small to contain every kind of carpet/rug available. 🙂

  2. I like simplicity a lot. We have one large, chain, grocery store in town, and one small, privately owned store. I almost always choose the small one. If I need something they do not have, I know where to go. 😉

  3. Making choice can be difficult as you say as you are saying no to something else. I find that hard as I don’t want to offend people. I am getting better after all what we want to do is just as important as what others want to do.

    • Yes, that desire not to offend other people tends to get in my way, too. I’m slowly learning to value my own wants and needs as highly as other people’s, but it’s not an easy pattern to change.

  4. This post describes how I feel about so many things that reading it was truly a reaffirmation for me – thank you! This describes how I’ve chosen to live my life in the last few years, with the exception that I did climb the career ladder for so long before wising up enough to realize it wasn’t what I wanted that now I’m sort of stuck trying to ease my way down it without hurting myself too much financially : ). As a writer, an introvert, and someone who feels caged if she doesn’t have unscheduled time to make choices what to do with in the moment, this is how I need to live. It did take me a while to stop comparing myself to the more career-ambitious or the people I felt gave so much more to their friends and family than I do because they thrive on social engagements and don’t need creative alone time. But I’m closer to being there than I’ve ever been!

    • Thanks for commenting! It’s great to hear from another “writer, introvert, and someone who feels caged if she doesn’t have unscheduled time.” That describes me so well!! I still struggle with the comparisons as well – and with other people’s expectations of me. Although understanding of introverts is increasing in our culture, I still find that there are a lot of misperceptions about what introversion is. A lot of people still think it is something that they need to force me to “fix.” Sigh. I’m also getting better at not listening to those voices and doing what I need to do to be healthy, but it is still a struggle. Congratulations on all of the progress you’ve made on this and best of luck on your continued journey!

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