Ten Choices I’m Glad I Made and Ten I Wish I Hadn’t

Photo by Oliver Roos. The image is a little dark for what I’m intending, but it’s still metaphoric of the grind/wonder of decision-making.

With my last birthday, I qualified for seniors’ night with the Buffalo Flats Social Club — dinner, entertainment, and occasional dancing for those 55 or older.

I pretty much know everyone who attends. I’ve considered them “the wise ones” for the decade I’ve lived in their community.

By the standard of age, at least, I’ve become one of them.

In all my dreaming and scheming about life, I never imagined a time when I would be 20 years away from both 35 and 75 heading in the direction of 90.

Nobody’s asking if I need help crossing the street — yet — but it’s coming. I really thought it would take longer to grow old.

Which brings us to my inventory of choices.

There is no you-should-too sentiment behind the disclosures you’ll soon read. Every path is uniquely crafted and inherently priceless.

Thank you for reading part of mine.

Ten Good Ideas Then and Now

1. Keep going when I have felt like quitting.

Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash.

Teenagehood. √
Dating. √
Friendships. √
Young adulthood. √
University degree. √
Jobs that seemed above or below my capacity. √
Fitness goals. √
Trusting others, including God. √
Healthy eating plans. √
Self-improvement. √
Pregnancy. √
Volunteer work. √
Sticking to a difficult project. √
Marriage. √
Life in general. √

At one time or another, these have all seemed like much more than I could handle, manage, cope with or endure and I’ve wanted to quit.

Some on that list have ended because that’s how they are: finite. (Teenagehood and pregnancy both deliver you eventually….)

I am so inexpressibly glad that I didn’t choose to quit, at least not until I had given what I thought was my all and a little bit more.

At that point, it wasn’t a “quit” — it was a decision to accept an outcome beyond my control, consider the lesson, and choose to move on.

What I’ve learned by not quitting is that there really are lights at the end of dark tunnels. Sometimes that light is just learning resilience.

Part B of this is that there are rewards we might not have the experience (yet) to foresee.

2. Bring children into the world.

I have nine children. That is not a typo for “five” or “one.”

Photo by Heather Burton. It’s my kids, ten years ago. (The youngest didn’t want to line up.)

If you wish you can ask, Do you know how that happens yet? (A dollar for every time I’ve been asked the question and I’d be set for life.)

The answer is yes, thank you. That’s why we have nine. We welcomed each child intentionally.

Some might feel tempted right about now to label me irresponsible and launch on a lecture about limited planetary resources. I’ve heard the message on many occasions before.

Sometimes, I’ve answered like this:

I compost, garden, walk whenever possible, make a light “eating footprint” by focusing on whole, locally-produced foods, recycle, upcycle, reuse my plastics, serve in my community, pray and work for world peace, contribute to humanitarian projects, and am an avid student of how to do better…a lot like my kids are.

There are private, sacred reasons why I chose to lend my body to the creation of human beings 9+ times. You can email me for that information, if you like.

To the general public, I will say: One of the most activist and legacy-oriented decisions anyone can make is to welcome people into the circle of family, love them, care for them to demonstrate that love, and help them see their unique gifts and opportunities to add good to the world.

My kids are, without question, my magnum opus. They are my best everything. I have zero regret about deciding to give them life.

3. Self-educate.

Where would you rather live?
a) a barren wasteland
b) a nightmarish, mucky swamp
c) a wonderland of valleys, hills, mountains, and meadows with infinite varieties of places to explore and enjoy.

Major life discovery: I choose where I live every.single.day.

Photo by Annie Spratt.

The human mind, mine or yours, can be a desolate place — a wasteland of apathy and passivity.

It can also be a dumping ground for everything and anything that happens to strike our interest and appetites…or at least excite us enough to sample, use and discard on a growing heap of temporarily satisfying distractions, thrills and amusements.

The human mind can also be vibrant, reverberating with the profound enjoyment of intriguing ideas, people, experiences and emotions.

The best decision I’ve ever made — because it affects all of the others — is to make learning a key reason for waking up each day and all day long. This way, I am always somewhere in the process of discovery from an ever widening range of vantage points.

My power of sight (and insight) are constantly renewed when I choose to be a teachable, observant, interested being.

4. Make a habit of hard work.

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash.

Looking back, I can’t believe I whined about chores as a kid.

Adult me knows that getting stuff done is where it’s at.

You create order, you collaborate, you test your skills, you contribute, you build stamina.

I can’t think of a single downside of (non-obsessive) work. Can you?

Hard work, or work we do like we mean it, is a neat little package of task-and-rewards.

Hard work is also the testing ground for smart work. Working smart gets chores, assignments, strategic plans and to-do lists done, contributing to our vital ventures AND reserving time for the other important things we want to do with our lives.

5. Adopt a wholistic/holistic lifestyle.

A health-coach friend, Jim Rhoades, taught me that our well-being is the sum of what we eat, drink, breathe, bathe in, apply to our skin, think, take into our minds and who we spend our time with.
Photo by IB Wira Dyatmika.

To me, this captures holistic/wholistic* living and is the way I‘ve decided to approach minor choices (which soap to use or what to eat for breakfast) and major ones (where and how to vacation or whom to trust as an adviser.)

Combined with #3 of this list, a wholistic lifestyle is my living, breathing, responsive, seeking, eyes-open approach to creating a way of being and doing that I love and that serves me well.

Some of the benefits of choosing holistic/wholistic living are visible and describable; some are not. I have healthier skin, hair, posture, digestion, everyday healing, and stamina. (Gotta’ love those outcomes.)

I also walk with greater confidence, wait longer to comment in sensitive conversations, feel like I have power to create solutions, and go to sleep with less heaviness on my mind. I don’t imagine my choice of soap did this, or my smoothie ingredients, or my affirmations, or my studies alone. It’s kind of the whole deal of simply reaching for and moving toward goodness in whatever influences that might impact my life and self.

Important note: This exciting, enlivening journey I’m on may be worth sharing with others from a place of enthusiasm or genuine concern and love, but I will violate my own integrity and others’ personal agency if I judge anyone else whose journey to “wholeness” looks differently than mine. By this, I’m meaning being critical or feeling inferior. Both are wrong. Can I evaluate whether Jamal’s spiritual practice or Katya’s morning cleanse tea is good for me, too? You betcha’. Do I have to adopt what’s worked for them? Nope. That’s the point. Seek and I shall find.

* “Wholistic and holistic are words that are interchangeable, though holistic is used more often when referring to holistic medicine and wholistic when referring to a philosophy of life.” Reference here.

6. Make time for humanitarian service.

Photo by Cultiva International.

It’s a tricky thing to talk about one’s own good deeds, so I won’t.

Let me just say that in the act of trying to help someone on his or her way, I have been given much, much more than whatever I gave away — time, money, sweat, books, food, work, or blood.

Walking beside someone in the struggle to overcome challenges deepens and strengthens both recipient and donor. Along with experiencing suffering oneself, compassionate service helps us humans become more humane.

7. Learn to grow my own food.

Photo by Francesco Gallarotti.

Every year that I’ve had some kind of discretion over some kind of dirt, I’ve planted seeds.

Sometimes, they have grown to maturity and developed into flowers or food.

They have always, without fail, produced wonder, knowledge, and gratitude.

There are few satisfactions like being part of the miracle of nurturing life.

There are very few remedies as effective for boredom, depression, or entitlement as working in soil to grow plants.

The benefits of deciding to become a gardener far exceed the investments, even when what we gather in isn’t exactly impressive.

What is impressive to me is how gardeners and growers, farmers and producers understand the Law of the Harvest. They know that we reap what we sow and take care of. Period. Learning to grow my own food reteaches and reinforces that truth season after season.

8. Choose marriage.

Emma and Denny, Sept. 1, 2018. Photo by Thomas Miller.

The commitment to my spouse is hands-down the most fulfilling decision I’ve made as an adult, right next to co-creating our children. And, right next to co-creating our children, it’s been (also hands-down) the most challenging.

Marriage, like parenting, is an “all-in” arrangement, and “all in” means all the good, all the mediocre, and all the flawed. It’s like a perfect mirror that captures us in minute detail. It can reflect our true nature like never before.

Basically, this means that while I thought I was marrying my husband to know and love him well, I was also signing up for knowing myself better than I probably bargained for.

Marriage, at least for me and a good percentage of my married (or divorced) friends, has been the entry fee into Xtreme Personal Growth.

After 31 years of marriage, I’m glad I “enrolled.” It’s been a fulfilling, consistent course in self- and other-awareness.

And with all the life lessons, there have been epiphanies and highs that compensate for the languishing (or anguishing) lows.

More could be said.

I’m just glad I said, “I do.”

9. Stay married.

See comments under 1 and 8.

I’m glad I’ve decided “I still want to” and “I still do.” Frankly, the most significant reason for this isn’t marital bliss.

Photo by Scott Webb.

Studies about happiness in marriage are incredibly difficult to conduct and analyze. In fact, a meta-analysis of 18 marriage studies suggests there is not a direct correlation between marriage longevity and happiness.

My analysis is that staying married deepens commitment to the union and it’s that commitment that brings the good stuff, only one of which is personal happiness.

Here are some of my reasons for staying in my marriage when things have not seemed “happy:”
- With our children, we’ve created a culture of holding on to each other in troubled times.
- I’ve come to understand the deep learning involved in being sorry and in forgiving. It’s transformative when we choose it — for the conflict, for the individuals involved, and for the relationship. 
- There is great comfort in “home” and the people who define what that is.
- My husband’s well-being has come to mean just as much, or more at times, than my own. 
- We have a complex, beautiful, raw, real, colorful, precious history together, none of which would have happened if either of us had quit.
- I made a promise to him (and to God) and keeping that promise is part of what defines me (as in, keeps my integrity to self, to our marriage vows, and to my highest power.)
- I’ve learned the lesson over and over and over again that there is good to come, even when we’re in dark or misty places.
- Marriage and family life is a mastery course in loving. As part of the meaning of my existence, I desire that mastery.

10. Claim my bad habits and addiction(s).

I’ve got them. My guess is every person does. Until we own up to them, though, they are mysterious forces that pull at and plague our better natures.

Photo by Nik Shuliahin.

Making claim to my faults and weaknesses has never been pleasant or dignified. It’s involved painful honesty, painful humility, and painful asking for help.

It has, however, meant liberation and self-respect…and a kind of compassion for others who are struggling up and out of bad habits and addictions, too. It’s a perspective that I may not have gotten any other way.

Part B of the List…and a Call to Share

I won’t elaborate much on each of the things I wish I hadn’t done, but they are noted below for the purposes of contrast and conversation.

I would love to read your lists. Please consider taking some time to think and write about them. The point isn’t gloating or recrimination. It’s more like counting blessings and swapping lessons learned.

If you do the exercise and care to share, please tag me in your Medium article or email me here. I will respond.

Photo by Maranatha Pizarras.

Ten Regrets

1. Believing other people’s fixed mindsets about my aspirations.

Three decades ago, I let a couple of off-hand comments about my non-professional-sounding voice and the excessive amount of singing I did hurt my feelings. (Poor me.) I concluded I “wasn’t much of a singer.” THIRTY YEARS AGO. Can you imagine how improved I could be by now? (Really poor me….)

2. Operating on a fixed mindset myself.

Fixed mindsets limit growth, and I’ve limited my growth (and others’) by saying “can’t” before I’d given the matter solid reasoning, hope, care or what-the-heck-let’s-try-it-anyway attitude.

3. Letting financial insecurity quash my enthusiasm for life-changing opportunities.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I wish I’d taken that to heart before I let so many opportunities pass by because they didn’t make financial sense at first blush. What really happened is that I didn’t apply my will to creative solution-making…or to faith.

4. Watching television. Ever.

It’s been over 15 years since I last watched commercial television. I haven’t missed it once.

I’m often asked how I get “so much done.” I’m never quite sure what to say because I’m not particularly organized or expert at goal setting. It occurs to me that 3 extra hours a day not spent watching TV might have something to do with it.

In writing this list, I also asked myself, “Am I a higher calibre person because of Days of Our Lives, Gilligan’s Island, and The Price is Right?”

My answer would have to be no.

5. More than 15 minutes/day on social media.

It’s a sucking black hole, right?

For work reasons, I’m logged in daily and use it as the tool it can be (and I do love to catch up with community news, friends, or faraway cousins ) but for personal enrichment or true human connection, nothing beats face-to-face, voice-to-voice or heart-to-heart.

So why do I still find myself scrolling?

6. Working late as if it were a real solution to overwhelmth at work.

A friend, noticing my frequent late hours at the office, taught me this truth: Work is work because it always needs to be done. If it were ever done-done, it would cease to be work.

I’m still figuring this one out. I think the solution lies somewhere in the mix of honesty with myself and others about how I use my time, prioritizing, collaborating, delegating, “sharpening the saw”…and remembering who is waiting at home.

7. Being angry with people and believing it was the only alternative.

There are always alternatives.

8. Dieting for weight loss instead of focusing on taking care of myself.

In the name of dieting, I’ve put all my body systems through grueling, punishing paces…not to mention what I’ve done to my psyche by equating less of my physical self at whatever cost with better or finally good enough.

At 55, I’m relieved to say I’ve finally made my peace with food.

9. Abandoning music lessons.

Two pianos in my home. Six guitars. Children who play like masters. A deep love for the sound and effects of music. And I can’t accompany anyone on anything. Yet.

10. Taking “no” personally, as if it were a statement about me instead of the free exercise of someone else’s will.

“No” means “no” in many contexts…but “no” doesn’t have to mean, “because you will never be good enough.”

The final word goes to the wise:

“The course of our lives is seldom determined by great, life-altering decisions. Our direction is often set by the small, day-to-day choices that chart the track on which we run. This is the substance of our lives — making choices.” (Gordon Hinckley)

Thank you for reading.
Heather