It’s kind of cheering to read this, isn’t it? ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS DIE…everything else is a choice (yes, even taxes!).

This may not be an original thought – what is? I read this line in another blogger’s post the other day and it pierced like a sharp Hattori knife through to my core. It’s harsh and perhaps a bit unsettling, and probably even complicates life somewhat, but I think it can also be freeing.

all we have to do is die

And it reminded me that choice in life is one of my core beliefs. We can choose to do. We can choose to be.

Sure we have to eat and drink to sustain life, but so many things we think we have to do are things that we choose to do. It’s like the difference between needs and wants.

Do we make the choices we do because:

  • society (family, friends, media) dictates it
  • we feel an obligation to do it
  • we fear loss or punishment
  • we don’t see any other options
  • the benefits are greater than the drawbacks
  • it’s enjoyable or rewarding
  • it’s the easy thing to do

Life is like WalMart (this is in addition to Forrest Gump‘s box of chocolates!). We wander the aisles of selection, the shelves are stuffed to the rafters, full of alternatives, and we can choose to nab the items we want or amble by to another aisle. For example, we could put a career choice, a partner, a pair of shoes into our basket. Do we ever ask ourselves, “Why did I pick that job? Why do I eat? Why did I get married or not get married? Why do I go out with friends? Why did I buy a new car?”

And even after make our selections, do we then ask ourselves, “Am I happy? Is what I’m doing really fulfilling and meaningful? When I arrive at the time of my death, will I look back at my life and be happy about what I did, or will I have regrets?”

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 The only thing people really have in common is that they are all going to die”

-Bob Dylan

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Choice in life means lots of good things but it also brings with it…wait for it…responsibility. Being rational and adult means there are consequences to every choice. This is why choice can be so rewarding but also so damned messy and difficult. It takes thought and judgment and it can be painful. It’s hard work!

I can choose to quit my job tomorrow, but the consequence becomes a loss of a paycheque and all of the details that entails. How will I pay for food and lodging and entertainment and a hundred other things? So, do I absolutely hate my job? Could I find something I might like to do instead if I went to college for a year? Could I move to a smaller town where the costs of living are lower and the need for more income would be lessened? With enough thought, effort, and often courage, we can find a more satisfying choice.

Over twenty years ago, I chose to work just 3 days each week so that I could actively participate in raising my kids (now there’s a decision they regret!). There were lots of questioning glances at my withdrawal from western culture’s expectation of what a father’s and breadwinner’s role should be. This choice meant a lower income and driving slightly older cars, and not having magazine-perfect furniture as society told me would be appropriate. But it’s a choice my wife and I made and have never regretted. Believe me, not every choice that I’ve made has been as easy to declare a success.

stay-at-home-dad

As we go through life, we need to ask ourselves tough questions and then answer honestly. Living life like there are few choices can be a simpler existence. But for me, life is richer when filled with choosing the paths I want to wander. The paths may be tangled by weeds at times, but at least they are heading in the direction of my choosing.

I think making choices consciously gives us freedom and a sense of honesty within ourselves.  Most of us spend much of our lives making choices based on false assumptions and beliefs drilled into us as children. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy promotes “thought challenging”- questioning our basic assumptions from different angles to help us make better choices.

When I was a kid, I was told that God and Heaven existed and that there was no need to question that belief. I was also told that going to university was necessary if I wished to live a “good” life. I was told that sexual intercourse was something preserved until marriage vows had been exchanged. I was told that men marry women and women marry men. I was told that after I married a woman, I would buy a house and have children. I was on a pre-determined train track and would chug along in the direction that track took me on.

All of the above were absolutes. But now I know that they are all choices. Everything but dying is a maybe.

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Lance Armstrong made choices that most of us likely think of as flawed and of poor moral backing. No matter what he says, he knew what he was doing was illegal and cheating. He lied to cover it up. BUT…he made a choice to use drugs and illegal methods to accomplish something that was deeply desirable to him. The benefits were greater than the consequences in his mind. The possible outcomes were something that he chose to live with in order to win big.  That he didn’t believe he would be caught and disciplined suggests to me that he wasn’t making conscious AND conscientious choices. Narcissism perverted his ability to make respectable choices, for himself, and others. Choices can be messy.

mommy_puts_out

Mommy made the choice to “put out”…here’s her consequence…

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We try to find our happiness through periods of life that include birth, aging, sickness and death. Any pleasure and success we have is not going to run in unending, neat straight lines. But we can make the conscious choices that reflect our own core beliefs and desires, not those dictated by what’s going on around us.

Didn’t we all have childhood dreams of what we might do or be in life? It’s never too late to be what you might have been.

We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.”

–Ken Levine

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