Monday, September 08, 2008

Making choices

I had a conversation today about right choices -- what IS the right choice? What makes a choice right? How do you know the choice you make is the right one for you?

Short answer: Don't know.

What I DO know is that life is full of choices, a whole bunch of them ones that will dramatically alter how your life goes from that point onward, and that you usually don't recognize them as such when you're at that crossroads.

Or at least I didn't for a lot of my own choices. As I've gotten older, I'm much more aware of those converging and diverging paths, and tend to dither a bit more about which one I pick.

But I sure didn't do that when I was younger.

College was a biggie, for instance: I went to Central Methodist College-now-University mostly because I'd attended a United Methodist camp thingy there as a high schooler. My parents liked it because I could get good financial aid. We all liked it because it was fairly small, yet still in Missouri where I grew up, so I could see my folks often enough to satisfy all of us.

In my sophomore year, I was bound and determined to go elsewhere for the last two years, believing then that I was not getting the kind of education I should be (never mind that my grades, while adequate, were hardly stellar, and reflected more my studying habits than my basic intelligence).

Indeed, my English major coursework was largely As -- and I say largely only because there were two classes in which I made a C and was okay with it, one of them at the ungodly (even then) hour of 7:40 a.m. and even the professor had trouble making it (snore). I didn't even read all the books --faked my way through the essay tests, and still came out with a C+/B-. (Learned the fine art of B-S in that class, I did....)

The other one was actually an interesting class but was taught by a Greek prof, gorgeous to look at and listen to, but who reserved his As for those who (a) read the complex five-act English plays on time every time, even when we would meet in the morning to finish one and in the afternoon to begin another (his wacky schedule, not the one according to the registrar), and (b) wrote papers according to some formula or style that I never figured out. The Rat actually gave me a D on a paper -- the one and only D I had EVER received on a paper! And bled all over it with his red pen to boot. While I never made another D from him, I never made an A either, and even my wonderful advisor admitted she was puzzled over his methods.

But anyway.

I vividly recall a conversation with my parents about wanting to go to my then-boyfriend's rather unusual school in North Carolina, and being told in no uncertain terms that it wasn't going to happen. They were okay with me applying to more traditional schools closer to home, which I did during my sophomore year, determined that this podunk town was absolutely no place for progressive, liberal me.

Well, I got talked into staying there by several friends whose opinions I valued, including one guy a couple of years older than me who was known for his cynical attitude even then. What they all said eventually made sense to me, and I decided to stay put. (And then got acceptance letters to two schools, including the Unversity of Kansas, which REALLY would have been a shock.)

And therein changed my destiny.

I met my first husband at CMU the first semester of my senior year, although I'd actually met him during one of the previous years when he came back as an alumnus of the campus radio station in which I worked, and did some guest speaker stuff for the staff. But we began dating that senior year and married the June after I graduated.

Was it the "right" choice for me? I don't know. What I do know is that because of that choice and subsequently others, I am where I am today, and I like who and where I am, thankyouverymuch.

We make choices. Choices have consequences, both good and not so good. You then choose how to handle the choices from those consequences: this job or that, stay or go, make it work or let it go.

Or you can drift along, remembering how good it used to be in the good old days (which it really probably wasn't, but our bodies generate hormones that help us forget the bad stuff and remember the good, or at least the not-bad). You can allow life to happen to you rather than taking control, even as much control as most of us may get, given jobs and spouses and income and locations.

Clearly there are choices we all face along that road that are a little more clearcut -- choices about things illegal, immoral, unethical, harmful to us or our loved ones. "Right" becomes a little more obvious then, although we still have choices to make about how we deal with such problems. I've made a few of those too. Change is always hard; this kind is harder.

And then some situations can sometimes offer either win-win or lose-lose dilemmas, and it's not easy to see what to do.

I remember one of those: I had been offered a new job in a different environment that was likely going to give me management experience and better career potential. The job I was in gave me a lot of autonomy -- I was a one-person department, but it was also grant-funded, and those positions are always politically vulnerable. The pay was the same, exactly.

I dithered for several days. I remember crying over it, making lists of pros and cons, talking with my husband, talking with my friends, even seeking advice from my current boss (a wonderful man and great boss for me). I was going to stay in the same field whichever I chose and would keep the same colleagues and friends, but would work for a different institution (this was during my public sector days).

I finally decided to take the new job. As with most choices, it proved to be a mixed bag. I did get management experience, but I also eventually worked for a boss who had the compassion of a cobra. I learned a lot, and I'm not sorry I chose it. But was it 'right'? Yeah. But it was because I MADE it right.

Eventually that experience helped me get a job in Birmingham for an industry-related company, and that company brought me to California. And in California I met my beloved Tony, and ended up where I am now.

We make our own destiny through the choices we make, and what we do with the choices we make. No single choice is exclusively "right" or "wrong" -- it is a choice. And it is up to us to make it work, or change it, or even to do nothing and let others make the choices for us. Not to decide is to decide.

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