“I don’t have a choice.”
I’ve used that line more times than I care to count. Maybe you have too. Most of us have experienced moments when we feel immobilized and hopeless to improve a situation. During such times, we may believe we have no choices available to us. But is that really true?
Declaring we have no choice is not a statement of power, but of submission. In some cases, our belief that choice isn’t available is based on misinformation. Even though we may not always choose the circumstances we find ourselves in, each of us has the option to choose our response.
Some Choices Are Obvious
Sometimes choice is so easy, it’s routine. We choose to eat instead of starve. We choose to go to work instead of stay home and lose the job. We choose to clean the house instead of live in a messy home. We don’t even think about these things because the consequences are obvious. Yet, these are choices nonetheless.
Some Choices Are Not So Obvious
There are other times when the power of choice is more obscure. If we catch ourselves in the throes of disappointment because of circumstances, it can help to take a deeper look. By saying we have no other options, could we actually be:
- letting ourselves off the hook,
- hiding out from potential failure,
- protecting ourselves from harmful criticism, or
- clinging to the status quo?
Getting brutally honest with ourselves brings us face to face with the heart of the matter. While it can be painful, it can also bring about tremendous self-awareness if we remain open.
When the ability to choose is hidden, it often comes down to whether or not we are willing to take a risk or step outside our current level of comfort. Some examples are:
- We can believe we have to settle for any work we can get or we can actively seek a more fulfilling career.
- We can choose to live fully every day making the most of each moment or we can postpone the good life for some far away, non-existent someday.
Waiting for Better Conditions
In my former human resources career, I began to recognize a pattern. While meeting with employees contemplating retirement, a common belief surfaced again and again. Some felt they had no choice but to delay what was important to them. They saw retirement as the magic ticket to the good life they’d waited on so long.
Unfortunately, by the time some reached retirement eligibility, their bodies were no longer able to meet the desire of their hearts. They put off living as they wished for decades only to find they were unable to chase those dreams they held so dear.
One meeting I won’t forget. A teary-eyed employee entered the office and proclaimed, “I’m ready to retire, so I have a chance to live!”
He sat down and quickly got to business seeking answers to his post-employment benefits questions. Just on the recovery side of a health scare, he’d clearly taken stock of his life and recognized he had no time to waste.
Afterwards, I sat unsettled thinking over our conversation. His long-held unsaid belief was that he had no choice but to put off living the way he wanted until conditions were right. And he felt he’d somehow been cheated. Perfect conditions never surfaced. But the crisis prompted him to spend the remainder of his days living on his own terms.
Embrace the Power of Choice
Believe me, I know what it’s like to feel trapped by circumstances. I recognize it doesn’t always seem like we have the luxury of choice, but we do far more often than we realize. Sometimes we just give up way too easily. If instead, we refuse to believe we have no options, we’ll usually find another way.
The next time you catch yourself believing you have no choice, stop for a moment. Ask yourself why you feel that way. Take a look at your current situation and begin to search for possible alternatives.