Imagine that you’re drowning.
Not a very pretty image, but come on, play along and just imagine for a minute.
The water is black around you, the sky overhead is equally so and teeming with rain, lightning streaking over your head. You’re struggling for air, slipping down deep, the water pulling at your legs and arms, dragging you further from the surface. You make one last, desperate push for air and break through the waves, gasping. Sharks are closing in, you can see their knife blade fins slicing the water around you.
If you try and tread water, you’ll be dead. One more wave will crush you, the water is freezing, so the longer you stay in it, the closer to hypothermia you get. The sharks look pretty hungry, too.
Suddenly, there is a splash and a burst of bright red beside you. You look up at it and see the hulk of a ship, hear the small voices of the people on it, calling out to you, someone holding the line on the life preserver to pull you to safety.
Now you have to choose. Live or Die. You don’t have time to wonder if another ship is coming, or worry that the sharks will starve to death if they don’t eat you or maybe think you could hold out a little longer until the storm passes and then swim to shore. You have to choose to save yourself or become sushi for the sharks.
What do you do?
You’re reading this right now and thinking..”Well, duh, Denise, I’m going to grab the shit out of that life preserver and spend the night on the ship!” This situation, as perilous as it sounds, is pretty basic. Not many would choose to ignore the life preserver and die. There are variables, too – things out of your control that can change the outcome. Say a huge wave comes and pushes you out so you can’t reach the life preserver. Suppose, just then, a submarine breached the surface and scooped you up just before Jaws and his uglier brothers had you for lunch? But, let’s just for now focus on the choice.
You can choose a course of action and then act. The variables don’t matter, and neither does the outcome.
The outcome in the immediate sense, is that you grab the ring and you live or you drown. Both are choices. The goal here is to make that choice and then own it. Forget for a minute what might happen next.
You can’t choose and blame the variables. Well…You could. But, listen to how it takes away the power of choice.
“Well, I HAD to let them save me…I mean…those sailors just scooped me up. What choice did I have?”
“Those jerks on the ship threw me a blue life preserver instead of a red one. It’s their fault I drowned. How was I supposed to know that was for me?”
“I thought I saw an island just as the ship showed up. I had to seriously think about the options, because what if they didn’t have enough food for me on the ship, what if the island was filled with cannibals, maybe the sharks are really friendly dolphins..”
No. No. No. In this scenario, there’s no thinking. You have to just go with your gut instinct and then accept the consequences. Grab the preserver or drown.
Life isn’t like that. Most of the time, we have plenty of opportunity to think about what we’re going to to before we have to do it. We can plan, shop around, ponder, consider and debate until opportunities pass by, or worse, decisions get made FOR us. Even that inaction is a choice. What’s wrong with making a decision and owning it? What’s wrong with choosing for yourself and then acting on it?
“it’s never just you, you know. Your decision affects other people.”
Yes. But, choosing something is better for everyone, rather than dwelling in Indecisionland, while angst eats you alive and stress drags you down to the point where you’re too tired to breathe. Once you make a decision and stick to it, the pressure is off.
“Choosing for yourself is selfish.”
Um, no. If you’re on a plane and it’s dropping in altitude, the oxygen masks drop and your instruction is to put yours on first. Now, as a parent and someone whose done some breath control training (I used to sing a lot), I might be tempted to take care of my kid first. He’s old enough now to follow those instructions himself, so I wouldn’t have to worry unless he got knocked out by the overhead bin door or something. It is NOT selfish to make a decision. It doesn’t have to serve you personally. You could decide to get your kids settled with oxygen masks first. But, remember YOU chose that when you’re gasping for breath while your three year old flails around in terror. See how it works? Choosing for yourself really means that you picked the next step on your own.. Whether you carefully weighed the options or Einee Meenie Minee Moe’d your way to the decision, you made it and you have to own it. Then you survive to handle what comes next.
That’s why the outcome doesn’t matter. You can strangle to death in the Right or Wrong debate, get bogged down with what ifs or if only’s. Provided you understand the basics of right and wrong, and you aren’t a morality free zone, this shouldn’t be difficult. Doing illegal, immoral or dangerous things that hurt people is always wrong. Being blatantly selfish or grossly irresponsible, of course, isn’t the right thing ever. Choosing the option that best fits your budget is smart and getting to know someone before you agree to marry them is usually a prudent course of action. And, there is almost never anything fatal about a wrong or bad decision – provided you’ve kept the basics in mind. The human spirit is resilient. We are built to rebound. My ex-mother in law has had quite a life: lots of financial ups and downs, marriages that didn’t last, family squabbles, problems with both sons (that have thankfully worked out well) and yet, she’s still optimistic and hopeful. I asked her once about it, and she said “I’ve lived my life. I don’t regret decisions I made, money I spent or anything like that. I enjoyed every minute and to me, that makes it all worth it.” Sure, she acknowledged that different choices might have left her more financially secure, happily settled into a compatible and lasting marriage, but, “I made my choices. Things would have been different and who knows what I would have missed?”
Consequences are inevitable. There are no guaranteed “and the angels sang” results to most decisions you make. There will always be someone that questions your choice, second guesses your decision and criticizes your actions. ALWAYS. So…let them. What someone else thinks of you and your choices (again, provided those choices aren’t running a meth lab out of your house, abused your children and so on) is none of your business. How do you like that? Someone wants to judge you? Let them. Unless they are throwing you a life preserver and offering constructive and caring advice that you ASKED for, let it go. If you can look at yourself in the mirror and not hate what you see, or sleep the night, you’re fine. You’re not going to make everyone happy, but if they’re safe, warm and fed, you’re doing just fine. Sometimes, it just seems like it’s going to be bad no matter what, no matter what your best plans were. Then it probably will be bad, really, really bad. Pick the option you can live with, inside yourself and then just prepare for the oncoming storm. They say when life hands you lemons, you need to make lemonade, and I agree. You have to deal with some lemon juice in your eyes sometimes, too.
Speaking of consequences, it’s important to accept them. They’re the fruit of the decision you made, so if the consequences suck, you HAVE to know why. If you own them, you can’t dwell in the ‘what if’ anymore. Think of it as being as being present in your life, in your own skin. It’s so important to be responsible for those outcomes – good and bad. The word for it is integrity – but usually that applies to people who have lived to the best standard. Have integrity when it comes to the bad spots, too. That’s when you become your own hero, because let’s face it, being saved is your job since we don’t have caped superheroes flying around. It’s not a cliche to say that we are who we are under the worst circumstances, because it’s very easy to be awesome when things are great. It’s a lot harder to be awesome when it all just bites.
So, if you take anything away from this I hope it’s this: Live your life. Make your mistakes. Take risks. Stand by the outcome, sometimes the kick in the pants you get is more valuable than the approving crowds. You are powerful, especially in your own life to be happy, succeed at your hearts desire, in choosing the direction your path goes. Don’t let the world drown you with should be’s, what if’s and if only’s. Regret is a slow poison – it cripples you until you can’t do anything except look back. You deserve better than that. You deserve certainty, determination and acceptance. We all deserve that.
Catch the life preserver.