Choosing To Choose
Posted by Ken Klaus on January 18, 2011
As a rule I don’t make New Year resolutions. Not because I have anything against making resolutions or because I don’t see the beginning of a new year as a good time to make a fresh start. It’s just that I’ve come to see genuine, sustained change as something that requires a level of resolve that we renew, not with each New Year, but with every new day. The kind where you roll out of bed in the morning and remind yourself of the changes you want to make and the choices that will need to made in order to meet your long-term goals. So when I made the decision to, um, resolve to make 2011 a “year of decisions” the irony of my high-minded thinking on New Year resolutions was not lost on me; but I’ve decided to hang on to what remains of my intellectual integrity and simply call this my 2011 goal rather than a resolu . . . well you get the point.
The goal in its entirety is as follows:
I’ve decided 2011 is going to be about making decisions. So I’m already off to a good start. Decision #1 – I’m going to stop complaining about the things I can change and work to make some changes. Decision # 2 – I’m also going stop complaining about the things I can’t change, since this is mostly annoying, entirely unhelpful, and generally takes away from the time I should be spending on Decision #1.
Though the point of the goal is to do less complaining – something about me that really annoys me – I felt the outcomes needed to be more tangible. Hence the “making some changes” portion of the goal, which I anticipate will be the hardest part of the goal, because the ability to achieve genuine and sustained change almost always requires tough choices. Choices I’ve probably known for some time needed to be made but was unwilling or afraid to make before now. I’ve also come to see that by choosing not to choose, I’ve actually made my choice and it’s probably the wrong one. James Hollis in his book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally Really Grow Up, makes the following observation:
“We all suffer from the lingering message of childhood: that the world is big and powerful, and that we are vulnerable and dependent. Stepping forth into larger shoes, more spacious psychologies, remains intimidating throughout our lives. Moreover, virtually all of us lack a deep sense of permission to lead our own lives. We learned very early that the world exacted conditions that, if not met, could result in punishment or abandonment. That message, overlearned and internalized, remains a formidable block to the ego’s capacity to elect its own path. Yet it is clear that we cannot choose not to choose, for not choosing is a choice from which consequences flow . . .”
If the first part of my goal is the more challenging of the two, the second will likely prove to be more frustrating. Coming to understand and accept what we cannot change is more a function of experience than willpower. Moreover, while the intellectual and moral courage required when making a choice generally speaks to the integrity of our individuality; the ability to accept what is beyond our power to change speaks more to our maturity and understanding of our place in this world. Though this understanding often gives us pause in our personal lives, in our vocational lives it can leave us feeling demoralized, angry, cagey, and unproductive. The injustice or unfairness, real or perceived, of a bad situation at work can leave us feeling like little more than corporate capital – to be used as our “masters” see fit. This can be especially true in Western economies, where our political ideologies strongly inform our corporate identities and where democracy and freedom of choice are sacrosanct. But the truth is, unless we are self-employed most of us will never have the final say at work. There will always be someone above us steering the ship or at the very least someone with the power to veto our decisions. Understanding and accepting this situation, I expect, will significantly improve our level of engagement at work and may help us feel a deeper sense of contentment within our vocational and personal lives.
Which brings me back to the final part of Decision #2. After committing to not focus on what I cannot change (actually I’ve only really committed to not complaining about it, ‘cause I’m all about setting reasonable expectations) I can rightfully return my attention and energy to making some important and possibly big decisions this year – choices that may lead me in a completely new direction or maybe even to a brand new vocation. But more likely – and more importantly – making these decisions should lead to a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in both my personal and my vocational life, which now, in hindsight, may in fact be the goal I was trying to set in the first place. I hope the same will be true for you.