Making a decision – choosing for myself – has not been easy for me for most of my life.
I’ve always looked for someone to approve my choice. I’ve reasoned that I needed an outside okey-dokey from some external authority. In the end and in bowing to that external authority as I’ve made choices in my life, I’ve chosen not from personal interest or desire but from fear of any form of condemnation. I’ve been shamed into making choices which were acceptable to others. I’ve chosen so that I did not have to hear, “Who told you that you could do that?”
My preferred strategy in any decision making process has been consultation which I would engage in for a long time. I’d go with the majority opinion since there is strength in numbers so I believed. Another factor that has played out in my choosing strategy has been that I knew that I had to get approval from my father or my boss or my principal for anything I wanted to do – especially if it would involve money. I learned that I was expected to ask for permission to make my decisions before I could choose and that I then had to seek approval for any choice once I’d made it.
I also learned my strategy to choose through having it modelled for me. I watched my mother bow to my father’s wishes. She was expected to accept his choice over her own for anything. And she would eat [literally] her disappointment.
My inner critic was well and truly entrenched and questioned every choice I made.
I learned early that I risked shame and humiliation if I made a choice without putting the needs and expectations of my family or teachers or bosses first. And their judgemental comments were such effective tools used to manage me that, by the time I was on my own, I’d begun to police myself. I had become so well trained that I no longer needed to hear the words from others. I had internalized them. My inner critic was well and truly entrenched and questioned every choice I made.
I learned very early that, once I had made a choice, I would not be able to change my mind and do something else.
I’d continue to do something even if it wasn’t what I wanted to do or it no longer served me simply because of the habits I had learned as a child: because it was expected of me to continue doing something which someone else had okayed, because I had learned that I had to live with whatever choices I made and accept the consequences of them and had internalized “You’ve made your bed, so lie in it!” And even as I knew and know what is meaningful for me, I have always, it seems, almost immediately questioned the ‘rightness’ of any decision once I’d made it. And I’ve worried what would happen if I made the wrong choice.
I know that I’ve made choosing a chore for myself in other ways. I’ve had such fear of appearing foolish, of not being ‘expert’ in doing anything, of being judged and found wanting.
I’ve felt such despair in believing that I would never measure up no matter what choice I might make.
And in feeling that and believing that, I’ve developed strategies which I’ve activated when I’ve had to choose in the presence of others – when I’ve felt that I had to perform and just ‘get on with it’. And what I’ve done is to effectively direct the focus off of me. I’ve locked myself into the story of my past by doing what I’ve learned so well how to do. I’ve also enacted strategies which make others ‘wrong’ and in that way have felt that the choice which I’ve made has been the only logical one to make.
Recently, I made a choice to retire from my position as a local choir director. I had been talking about this for over a year and would decide to retire and then would talk myself out of it. I’d worry that I might make the wrong choice. What if I couldn’t change my mind? What if I inconvenienced others by making my choice? And so, I would weigh the pros and cons and seek the counsel of others and then, in the end, not choose.
And finally, I did chose and submitted my letter of my intention to retire to the board of the choir. I had printed the letter and had it with me as I went to choir rehearsal. And before the rehearsal began, I didn’t know if I would give the letter to a board member. Beyond questioning if I was making the right choice for me, I worried about my timing. As if choosing for mySelf was dependent not upon what was the ‘right’ time for me but rather on what was convenient for the choir.
Yet this time, I ignored the voice of my inner critic and did what I knew was right for me. And as I was driving home after rehearsal, I felt such a sense of inner calm. No questions, no worry – just calm.
Then, at the next rehearsal, I realized that how I was feeling about coming to rehearsal and working with the choir had changed. Somehow, it felt more ‘professional’ for want of a better word.
What I’ve realized in making this decision and choosing what I know is what I need in my life sans questions and worry is that once anyone makes a choice based on their internal cues and not learned behaviour and old strategies, it feels right.
Our power in choosing is in the point of the present where we each stand in the moment.
As things come up for us in our lives, and they always do, we get to choose to be caught in the trap of history and old strategies or to stay in the experience of the moment and see what will happen.
I know that I need to keep exercising my ‘choice muscle’. I know, too, that no matter what choice I make, I will be changed and so I’m choosing not to default to old patterns and strategies.
With each choice I make for mySelf, my journey forward gets brighter and richer. I am choosing that.