When I was in graduate school, I took advantage of a free campus program called CHOICES (an acronym representing some combination of holistic wellness words). For those few months, Charise, Sonal and I loved applying “#Choices” to everything I did — first as a funny way to acknowledge my participation in the program, but then as a serious acknowledgment that everything we do — or don’t do — is a consequence of choice.
I remember how obvious it was when I began meeting with Stephanie, a glowing, then-pregnant woman who worked at our wellness center. My food binging issues were resurfacing, and while I was concurrently using university counseling services, I wanted to speak with someone holding a nutrition background. She was not a therapist or a personal trainer. Her role in my life was to simply — yet profoundly — help me become aware of the fact that my pleasure or pain was a result of my… #choices.
I’ll give the social justice disclaimer here: not everyone has the privilege of making the same choices about the same things with the same frequency. I get that and honor that. However, barring any human beings or non-human animals existing within the confines of slavery or debilitating living conditions, most of us do have some degree of choice in our lives. In my personal network of friends and family, choices are widely available.
And *yet*, so many people I know are sad, exhausted, and constantly talk about having to “make it through” their lives. They are surviving instead of thriving. In my own spiritual and personal development — acknowledging I have little to no tolerance for the use of excuses and neglect of ownership, to the point that it is highly triggering to see people behave otherwise — I have learned that people have been programmed to believe their lives are not as malleable as they are. Those lessons have been passed down or modeled to many of us, myself included. People think they are being wise when they say that sometimes you just have to “deal with it,” but really they are perpetuating a very toxic mindset of learned helplessness.
Again, I am going to speak primarily to the audience of our readership: twenty-somethings who have college degrees, who are highly talented, and who are spending hundreds of dollars on wine so they can have “wine night” with a friend and complain about all of their problems. I will own that this setup used to be a joy to me; in fact, it got me through my early twenties. I now look back and realize I was wasting time. Instead of talking so much about the pain in my life to so many people, I could have just done something about it instead of building an identity around my shitty, shitty life. (Disclaimer: In hindsight, depending on the year, the shittiness ebbed and flowed, but that isn’t the point; the point is that I spent years of my life tolerating toxicity.)
I have always felt compelled to make unpopular or unconventional #choices to prioritize my wellbeing. Charise has been part of many of these choices. After one year of teaching at an oppressive school, she and I moved to new towns and taught at different schools. The next year was just as bad. We both moved again and went to graduate school. She and I often laugh at how irrational it seems that we moved and changed so often, but now I look back and think we were wise without knowing it. We would not tolerate an existence that made us miserable. We owed it to ourselves to make the choice to change, even if that meant yet another mailing address, moving truck, year of being “the new person” at a job, etc.
#Choices can happen on smaller scales, too. Last week, when I learned I would have the whole week off from work due to the hurricane, I had options. My levels of anxiety were as high as ever in the days leading to Irma’s landfall — people would just not stop talking about this storm, and I eventually got sucked into the vortex of worry. Quantum Love reminds us that anxiety and fear are two of the lowest energies possible. No wonder I was having regular nightmares. I couldn’t even sit at my dining table and study for ten minutes without panic. Then, when I couldn’t do it anymore, I threw some clothes into my car, put my dog in the backseat, and, like JLo in Enough, booked it out of town.
This choice was liberating, as choices always are liberating when we make a choice that is right and true for us. If you do have the means and possibility to make a choice — and if you are in desperate need of a change but choose in action — then honey, you are indeed choosing to suffer. Yes, you. You will say that it is someone else’s fault or something else’s fault, but it is not. You will need to take ownership of the fact that you could have, but you decided not to. This is why choices are as liberating as they are terrifying: Do you believe you are powerful enough to take control of your own destiny?
Part of this choice conundrum is evaluating levels of risk. A new reality or a change always seems implausible until you do it, and then you laugh at the fact that you even doubted its possibility in the first place. When I took off in my car, I thought I was *crazy* for driving 17 hours to Pennsylvania on a whim. Now that I am back at home, I’m like, dude, that really wasn’t crazy. I had a car, I had time, and I had space. That choice was perfectly reasonable. Why wouldn’t I have used that time in that way? Staying home would have ensured my insanity, and it would have been my choice to do so.
However, risk is real and you might find that after careful consideration, risks of choice are too overwhelming. This is fine as long as your evaluation of inaction is not rooted in secret fear — aka, excuses. But what do you do if you truly do not have a choice? Well, on the last hour of my journey home yesterday, a huge piece of metal flew off a truck and slashed one of my tires (Charise and Brent picked me up, bless ’em, and everything was fine). This is when the choice of mindset becomes more important than choice of action, as the choice to get in my car and drive home was impossible. Would I angrily pout about the fact that this happened to me, or would I accept that this is what happened, that my only choice is to get the car towed and wait, and graciously accept the help of friends? Positivity isn’t a hoax. Again, it’s liberating to choose a response of gratitude: that I am safe, that my friends came and got me, and that my car insurance is helping me out. This will pass.
Learned helplessness and victim mentalities keep us from:
- staying in unhealthy relationships
- not living our truth in front of people whom we feel will judge us (especially family members)
- leaving jobs that no longer serve our higher purpose
- taking cool vacations or letting ourselves enjoy any recreational activities (Europeans have this embedded into their work culture; we need to take some pointers and learn how to play)
- moving cities
- complying with societal standards of beauty, capitalism, or gender performance
- and so much more.
Next time you are feeling worry or anxiety, ask yourself what your choices are. If it is possible for you to have choices without the risk of compromising your safety, consider what is truly available to you. Fear can be a good indicator that you’re considering an option that is true to your needs. But remember, in almost every circumstance, your life is a result of your choices. Spiritually, our souls are being tested to see if we will make the choices we were incarnated to make! Make some good ones, hunnies.