At 49, the biggest mistakes of your life usually start to be quite clear.
Thinking to have time or not caring enough about the needs of my dears are certainly among mine.
But one mistake stands out, as the root of many others.
Life exposes you to a helluva lot of options.
Big options, like studies, jobs, marriages, and so on. Small options, like what to wear this morning or what to eat at the restaurant. Medium options, like trading or not that Pokemon.
I became pretty decent at recognizing what consequences options carried with them. Enough to avoid the worst options. Most of the times.
But decisions have always been critical to me. I cared about the options. I cared about the pros and cons of those options and, invariably, I got stuck in the complex decisions.
I learned to accept a bit of fortuity. I learned to identify major factors. I learned to know my priorities. I learned to read feedback.
But any decision has always been a match in my head. The winner had to be the best option. In case of a deadline, I accepted a sub-optimal choice, but I didn’t live well with it.
I felt compelled to choose among the options, and to choose the “best” one.
Choosing was my disease and, up to a point, still is.
Definition of “best” is usually relative. In a precise and confined context, it may have a meaning, but life is not exactly precise and confined.
All that matter involves tradeoffs.
So, the “best” option should be the best according to your priorities.
But life, when you think it’s easy, is complex (and the contrary). You have dreams, passions, friends, family, bills to pay, reputation, health, limited time, and all that makes the equation complicated enough.
You usually simplify, focus on what matters — discovering that more than one thing matter, and that they conflict — , ask for advice — hoping it will match what you have in mind — , and hope for the best.
And you usually end up making an arbitrary decision, on a good option, that you sometimes label as the best in your case. Maybe the safest. Maybe the most socially convenient. Maybe the most economically promising.
But other options were there, unseen. Other “best” would win in a different period of your life. Other “best” would be possible, if you knew more. Other “best” would have been chosen, if your super-ego, shaped by the standards of your environment, had been silent.
Studies chosen because they promised a “better” career. A husband chosen because he was a good guy. A dress chosen because it wasn’t too showy.
Good choices. And bad decisions.
What makes your life have a meaning? What do you want to accomplish before dying?
Find a way to make that happen. That’s a decision. Stating your future and living with the consequences.
By going safe you won’t accomplish your life dreams. By picking options, you renounce to determine your identity and your future.
Don’t you know what you want? Work on that, not on the choices.
Success in life is not about choices between options; it’s about decisions. Options are just opportunities. Success is about deciding what matters most to you. Then choosing a path and put in all the effort needed for that path.
By deciding you also own responsibility to intervene on your reality. To create options. To reshape needs. To change your environment. To change your place in your environment. To change yourself.
By accepting to decide you allow yourself to change your reality.
Once you state your path, your actions can follow.
Ruth Chang explains well this concept:
At 49 — like me — deciding is still valid, for big changes. But a bit harder to put in place. Your family has right to their own terms, life is on its own track, and the old you will still try to choose. You may require a transition.
Deciding earlier would be better. Deep down, you usually know what matters most, for you. And you know that the lack of courage plays an unspoken role.
Choosing is not an outmoded concept. It’s good or necessary in many cases when previous decisions had been taken.
But the moment choosing takes over deciding, your dreams go stand-by.