I read in a book that poor decisions are the root of almost all human-caused problems. A poor decision is a common denominator in why a person’s life may not be going well. And with that logic, “good” decisions are the underlying reasons why a person has a “good life.” Is my life truly just a reflection of my choices?
This week I’ve been replaying some of my choices and behavior patterns in my head and asking myself these questions:
In what ways did I set myself up for success?
In what ways did I put myself in a position to fail?
When did I go right instead of going left?
When did I decide to learn versus not?
When did I keep pushing forward rather than giving up?
Maybe, I should see myself as a chef, and my life is a rich stew that I’ve been slow cooking for some time. Everything about this soup is under my control; the soups taste, the broth’s texture, and viscosity when it hits my tongue; even its fragrance is determined by the ingredients I select and my unique recipe.
It feels like so much responsibility at times, and the stakes feel high. Life feels incredibly reactionary, and that every choice I make will have the most significant impact on how my life goes. It’s the ultimate illustration of cause and effect.
Then I wonder about the times I didn’t know better. Like all my uninformed choices. Instances where my educated guesses were just that – naïve and ignorant. What about the choices I made that were from a lack of options? When answer choice “a” and “b” both sucked, but I still had to pick one because that was all that was made available to me.
That is when I feel like my options were curated first and then made available to me after. The idea that “the whole world is your oyster” feels like a farce because I just have a small playpen to explore.
I get past that point and tell myself, well, maybe it’s less about the quality of options and more about which option I pick (within my control).
My mom would always warn me that “you make your bed hard; you gotta lay in it!”. She emphasized the impact that “one simple decision” could have on the trajectory of my entire life, like dominos. As a family, we watched news TV Programs like 20/20 or 60 Mins. The reporting segment would detail the lives of random politicians, movie stars, activists, academics, or even criminals. It did not matter the subject, but my mom always made sure I closely observed the cautionary tales of people who destroyed their lives with just one simple act. She also made sure I took note of the people who created the life of their dreams because they did the “right” things.
I would like to say I always took heed of her warnings of what to do and what not to do. But sometimes, I didn’t. It’s one thing to be taught a lesson, it’s another thing to even observe the lesson play out in the lives of your peers, but sometimes you need to feel the lesson to know it’s true.
As I get older, I see that my past choices are still impacting my life today. I have made plenty of the “right” decisions, and I like the life I lead now. However, I wonder if I could have even more of what I want if I had done a few things differently.
I reflect a lot on my past, maybe too much, but it’s what I do. I like to dissect who I am. In high school, I learned about the concept of a “worldview,” a person’s worldview gives them the outlook they have towards themselves and others. Many people don’t even know they have a worldview or that their worldview is unique to themselves and that others may not ascribe to it. My worldview is personal, and it continually evolves and grows. Today, I reflect on how my worldview is still determining my decisions, the good and bad ones.
High school and college were heightened years for me in every way. Between the ages of 13 to 23 years old, everything I felt was intense and magnified.
If I was sleep-deprived, it was the most tired I had ever been!
If I liked a guy, it felt like true love (kind of)!
If I did not do well on an exam, I was a failure!
If I was upset at my parents, I hated them and thought they were trying to ruin my life!
The choices I made then are still setting the tone for how I live my life now. It’s fascinating that the most confusing period of my life would be when I had to make the most critical decisions.
to sleep in and not going to class because I was depressed…
to not join a sorority because I have a problem with authority…
to go to boarding school versus a day school in NYC…
to go to a Quaker boarding school versus a waspy one like Taft…
to believe in my dream versus the limitation of a professor…
to rely on my mom for money versus getting jobs…
to focus on family versus friendships…
to get credit cards (and use them) …
to major in biology instead of philosophy or anthropology…
What I wrote above is just a tiny fraction of all the small and big life decisions I had to make daily.
Back then, I feel like I did not have much power.
Back then, I felt that I was just begrudgingly going along with the flow.
Back then, I was waiting for God to lead my steps.
It would be extreme: either I was entirely at the whim of my feelings (which changed by the millisecond), or I felt like I was a foot soldier, just acting out the will of God. I remember times; I would look up at the heavens and say, “so…is this what you want me to do? Is this okay? Am I covering what we discussed earlier? Am I on the right track?”
So, in a way, I did not fully get that my choices were my own because I always fact-checked them with my parents, society, or God.
As my spirituality grew and I moved more and more away from religion, I realized that yes, you do have choices, and yes, your choices do matter. I finally understood that my choices were mine to make. I am the author of my life and not just a simple contributor.
The other day, I explored the concept of the “fated life” vs. the “destined life.”
The “fated life” concept is that we are born into a series of circumstances based on the body we enter when our soul comes to this planet. Our life is circumscribed by our gender, family structure, family genetics, geolocation, anything, any circumstance of being on this planet. Therefore, if you were born into a family with a history of alcoholism, this may be a circumstance you would have to work through during your time on this planet.
The “destined life” is outside of this planet’s physical and emotional attachments and our family circumstances. It is the mission a person’s spirit wants to achieve while on earth; some people may call it their “calling.” Others consider it a soul’s purpose. It’s who you are outside of race, class, sex, etc.
For me, it means understanding what my true desires are and what it means to exercise self-expression and freedom. What were the wishes I had before I entered this bodily form?
My destined life is what my soul chooses and is my greater plan on this planet.
I go back and forth with this notion because it feels like my fated life presents me with challenging and contrary situations. I have to pick between really tough choices because of the life I was born into; I question if I have made the correct ones in these situations. I hope that perhaps my destined life (my real soul’s purpose) will shine brighter than the “bad” decisions I have made, and I will still be okay.
It gets very confusing and feels complicated. I am learning just to trust myself overall, though. I have noticed that when I am at a crossroads in my decision making, between a practical and perfect (boring) laid out path set out for me and another path that is less traveled but thrilling, I tend to pick the latter. That’s one pattern I notice with my decision making.
My uncle always reminds me that “we must own our decisions, then we will move forward, we must own our decision, and then we don’t have to live in past regret.” I think of his words often, like this week, when I look back on my poor decisions and get too hard on myself. I am trying to take accountability for my actions, grow from my past, and learn from mistakes to inform my future self. Hindsight is 20/20. My actions are like ripples in my life’s fabric, but I know that I am doing the best I can base on what was given and presented to me at the moment.
Several years ago, I met an elder that was around 90 years old at the Food Coop in Brooklyn. I was going through a cycle of learning about nutrition and the impact of fruits on my health. My cart was filled with bananas because I was preparing for a long weekend of smoothie fasting. The number of bananas I had in my cart sparked a conversation about her diet and health journey. I told her my struggles with eating healthily and that I wanted to “get it right.” I remember telling her, “I just want to stop eating bread and oily food, but I just can’t; it’s hard.” She looked at me in my eyes, shrugged, and said, “well darling… we do what we can do…because what we can’t do… we can’t do… that’s it”.