Have you ever looked at an unfavorable life circumstance in your life and thought you are undergoing this because you ‘don’t have a choice’?
I often hear people around me saying: “I have to do XYZ.” “I need to do that.” “I have no other option.” “I have no choice.” This can apply to anything, from their reactions to being in a dilemma to small fixes. The most common context I hear this phrase being used in is when people are doing work they dislike. They remain in the job because they need the stable income to support their expenditures and their family.
While people may think they have “no choice,” I beg to defer. All of us always have choices, and we are exercising them every day, every minute, and every second.
You Always Have A Choice
Sure, you may not have any choice or influence over what has already happened in the past. However, you always have a choice in how you think, say and you do from here on. To quote Randy Pausch from The Last Lecture, you can’t change the cards you are dealt with, but you can change how you play them.
Say, you are in an accounting job you dislike. You want to pursue your passion in bakery. However, you have financial needs and responsibilities to fulfill to your family, which makes your source of income from your accounting job important. These are things you can’t change and you don’t have a choice per se.
You do, however, have a choice in how you react.
Some may think: “How can there even be a choice? I have to remain in the company! If I don’t continue working here, I wouldn’t have the finances to support my family and pay my bills. If I can’t do that, not only am I not fulfilling my duties as a filial child, I can’t have a proper livelihood either. Any other options is just not practical.”
Of course you have a choice. You could quit and pursue your passion. However, at the moment you choose to stay on in your job. You choose to stay on for now because you feel that the benefits of staying on outweigh the benefits of quitting.
You Make Choices All The Time
In life, you are always making many different choices every day. It’s just that you may not recognize them due to familiarity blindness. Let’s break down the various choices you make in a regular day.
- You wake up at 7am to get ready to go to work. You feel really tired but decide to wake up as you want to be on time. (Choice # 1)
- You go to the bathroom to wash your face and brush your teeth (Choice # 2)
- You pick out a certain outfit to wear to work, over other clothes (Choice # 3)
- You take a train to work, rather than a bus or a cab (Choice # 4)
- You start off your routine for the day when you reach the workplace (Choice # 5)
- Your boss gives you extra work to do, even though you already have a lot of work on the plate. You take it on without complaints since he’s the boss (Choice # 6)
Do you see everything you do is actually a choice? Actions, whether they are benign or life changing in nature, are all choices you make. When you undertake a path, it is a choice you make. Let’s look at #1 and #6, since these are probably the scenarios that most people face dissonance with.
- Choice #1 – There are other options here. For example, (A) You could have just slept in till 8am (instead of 7am) and gone to work late. You didn’t because you want to maintain your integrity and you didn’t want to create unnecessary issues. Or even, (B) You could have called in sick, but you didn’t want to let the work accumulate to the next day. So in light of the more unfavorable options, you chose to wake up at 7am to go to work.
- Choice #6 – One possible option is to explain to your boss about your current workload and reject the extra work. However, you are uncomfortable about possible repercussions if you get so upfront with your boss about the situation. So, that led you to choose to take on the work without complaints.
Everything we do is a choice that we make, from the simplest actions right down to the life changing ones.
Taking Ownership of Your Actions
Sometimes, you may not recognize that you do have a choice because the circumstances are daunting. They overpower you to a state where life looks like it is just a series of constraints and you don’t see yourself having any power or choice over what you are faced with. Some of my past 1-1 clients reach this stage of helplessness because of overwhelming circumstances from their past.
Maybe your parents are giving you a hard time about what you should do as a career. Maybe you are in a career you dislike. Maybe your manager is cutting back your salary due to recession. Maybe you just got retrenched. Maybe people around you discouraging you from pursuing your dreams.
You can either react in a helpless manner and continue to suffer in the face of the situation. (By the way, it’s a still choice to think you don’t have a choice, albeit an unconscious one.) Or, you can muster your courage to take action on the outcome you do want. The first scenario will lead you to become a bitter, disjointed, unhappy person who gets a limited experience of life. The second scenario will lead you to live life proactively, making things happen and creating results you want to see. It’s your pick on which outcome you want. From where I stand, the second option definitely seems like a better one.
Every so often, people would complain to me about how they dislike what they are doing. They say the same thing like a broken record, over and over again. Yet when I ask them what they have been doing about it, they would say ‘nothing,’ or they would come up with a whole series of reasons to justify why they haven’t been doing anything. It basically sums up to “I don’t have a choice.”
If I had adopted that attitude, I would never be able to get my personal development business up and running. I would be complaining about how my life isn’t what I want, how I’m working in a job I feel empty about because I need financial security, how the small personal development industry in Singapore makes it nearly impossible for me to make any foray in what I want to do, how my parents are disapproving of self-employment, people discouraging me against leaving a well-paying and promising career especially in a recession, and about a zillion other reasons.
However, I realized that whatever I did in the past and whatever I was doing were all my choices. I accepted responsibility for everything that happened, whether it was seemingly within my control or not, and took charge to architect the life of my dreams. I rose beyond my constraints to create what I wanted. Because of that, I’m doing what I love today.
If you keep thinking you have no choice over your situation, that’s exactly how it’s going to remain. You will always stay as the person who is powerless over his/her life circumstances. The powerlessness comes from the refusal to accept and take responsibility for what you are doing. Nothing’s going to change unless you take ownership for what’s going on in your life.
When you recognize that your life is your life, and everything you do is inherently a choice you make, that’s when a shift occurs in how you behave in your life. Rather than blame external environment for what you are facing, you take action and become proactive in getting what you want. Rather than feeling victimized by your situation, you will gain power over it, one by one. Things will start shaping themselves into what you want them to be, because you are actively working on them.
Here are some questions I will leave you away with:
- Is there anything you see yourself as doing because “there is no choice?”
- In these cases, what are the other options you could have taken but didn’t, for some reason?
- Can you see that whatever you are doing, whether it is a status quo decision or not, is actually a choice you made in the face of your situation?
- Moving forward, what is your envisioned outcome out of this dilemma?
- What are some immediate steps you can take to start moving yourself out of it?
No matter how things may seem, you always have a choice. Only through accepting responsibility for that, can you finally progress toward what you want.
Also read: How to Start When You Have Nothing
Image: Wheat field