Only Three Choices

Another re-run Weekly Itch Column from 2008, advice that fits well for individuals and communities

My simplistic view of life decisions has the foundation of my understanding that when faced with any decision in life we really have only three choices: Ignore, Change or Accept.

As complicated as we may want to make decisions or events, boil it down and when push comes to shove these are only these three choices. This viewpoint has made my life simpler; hopefully sharing it with you might help you with your next challenging decision.

Ignore is the life equivalent of picking up a problem or challenge that lies in our path and tossing it into a backpack we’re carrying. We must now carry the weight of the problem with us at all times. People who chronically ignore problems or decisions eventually can’t shoulder the weight of all the problems they ignore. Sooner or later many crumble under the load they’re carrying. The total load of the backpack spills around them and they are often unable to cope with all of these problems or decisions now facing them. The world around sees a sudden train wreck, but it may have been years of ignoring that caused the crash.

Change is the second and often the best choice, but change comes with some basic rules and a requirement for work. You can change a lot of things you don’t like. You can change your attitude or right wrongs you have caused. You can change yourself within reasonable limits of what is possible. You can lose weight or exercise more, change your hair colour or clothes. You absolutely can’t change other people unless they truly want to change themselves. So, if your planned solution to a problem that bothers you is to change someone else, it will almost certainly fail.

Change is the constructive form of dealing with a problem or challenge. An example: you want a better job, you might need a better education or updated skills to land it, so you decide to go back to school and change yourself to allow that progress. Almost always, the choice to change something involves work and time, but ends with more value in your life. Choose change wisely and the work you must do to make change becomes an investment that yields more happiness in life.

To successfully change anything you also need a realistic view of your own willingness to do the work, as well as your capabilities to make that change. Example: If I suddenly announced that I wanted to quit my job and become a professional ballet dancer, any who know me would howl with laughter. I’m a really big guy, way too old to start a ballet career even if years of cycling and fading eyesight has made me comfortable in Lycra. I could pursue ballet all I wanted, but not being realistic about my skills and ability to change would likely guarantee failure unless it were in fact a comedy ballet. Work hard for the possible instead of dreaming of the impossible.

Change requires a good hard honest look at yourself as well as being realistic about both your capabilities and true desire to change. Honestly will help decide if you can actually change something. If you really stink at or hate science, don’t plan to become a doctor. Unless of course the extreme passion you feel for becoming a doctor makes the hard work to survive the science a small issue. Recognize your weaknesses and plan to work really hard at them and almost anything you want is possible.

Before giving up on changing something or someone, it’s important to make sure you’ve given your best shot at it. If you’ve taken your best effort at changing a certain part of your life and haven’t succeeded, then you must move on understanding that no matter how hard you might work the changes you want just won’t happen.

Accept is the final choice. True acceptance is usually difficult and comes at a price, but you only pay that price once. I’ve shed my tears over my impossible ballet career and have moved. Seriously though, accepting may be hard work and giving up on unrealistic dreams, but leads to more peace in your life.

We must often find ways to accept the limitations of our life that were caused by life events out of our control. We didn’t cause those problems, but we must either carry them around with us or find ways to accept the results. We’ve each been randomly chosen to carry some extra load through life, and must eventually accept that if we don’t let it crush us it will make us stronger.

If something that really bothers us can’t realistically be changed, we must work to accept it. We could ignore it, it will still bother us and we’ll waste energy every day of our lives carrying it around with us wishing it were different. From time to time, I try to empty that backpack of problems I’ve ignored. I find a quiet time and dump them in plain view so I can begin work on changing what I can and accepting what I can’t change.

I accept that this gift of life we have is of limited and unknown duration, not always fair but always fatal. I will leave this world with exactly what I arrived with. I accept that to live well I must take responsibility and work hard to build value in my own life. I accept that I have responsibilities to my family, my community, my world and myself. In exchange for those responsibilities I earn the right to enjoy my life here for hopefully a very long while.

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