“If I had my choice …” or “If I could choose any one thing, I would …”
How many times have I heard these phrases? Or read them? It’s likely that we hear them so many times a day we begin to overlook them or ignore them. They become so much white noise added to the background of our lives. I find myself thinking these phrases often. Just this morning, I was thinking about how certain things in my life are not the way I would prefer them to be. And I thought about how it didn’t feel as if I had come to this place in my life, physically or emotionally, by choice. To a large extent, I feel like most of my life has been a case of making the best of whatever was handed to me, whether by the people around me or by the universe at large or whatever. And I found myself thinking it …
If I had my choice, I would …
Presumably, the end to that sentence is that I would choose a different path. Or I would pick something better for myself. Or more fun. Or more … whatever. The ending to the sentence isn’t what really matters. What really matters is the thought that immediately popped into my head, which was this: “But would I? Would I really?”
I do believe Life has, more or less, happened to me. To a large extent, I did not participate in the choices I made that led me to where I am. I followed along with the plans others had for me. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents or, later, my husband. And so, I went with the flow, more or less. I never thought about what I wanted. I never thought about what my own dreams were. I never thought about … well, anything. I never planned anything. Or, if I did have the shadow of a plan in my mind, I let it go all too readily and easily in the face of what others wanted.
In some ways, it’s liberating, isn’t it? I mean, to feel like you can look back at your life … or that you can look at the unhappy/unpleasant/untenable situation you are in … and realize you are there because you simply flowed along in the river of life, absolves you of all responsibility. Right? It’s not like you are unhappy because of choices you made. Or that you feel stuck and ineffective because of things you actively did. Someone else put you in that spot. And, if you had had your own choices or your own way, things would have been better.
But, seriously. This isn’t true at all, is it? Because I did choose. I chose every single thing that got me to where I am today. I chose those things by NOT choosing anything. I chose those things by following along with what others wanted and by making the best of whatever was tossed my way. I chose through inaction.
It kind of hurts, when I think about it this way. When I sit and think about it and am honest with myself, it hurts a lot. It makes me a little sick to my stomach. And that’s how I know it is at least partially the truth. That sick-to-my-stomach feeling almost never leads me astray. It is almost always right. Maybe not totally right, but for the most part.
So that brings me back to my original thought today: If I had my choice … Would I be capable of choosing? I honestly don’t know the answer to this question.
The truth is that I never had choices growing up. In my formative childhood and young adult years, I didn’t have the freedom to make my own choices or to dream my crazy dreams. I didn’t have the freedom to dream any dreams. My parents, and, in particular, my mother, had very specific plans and expectations for me and for my future. I was supposed to be a certain kind of person. I was supposed to approach the world in a certain kind of way. I was supposed to do certain things with my life.
I wrote. And my writing, in a way, was my dream and my escape. I used it to let myself wander free from the expectations and the plans that were laid before me. But the truth is that I was never strong enough to break away from those expectations. I kept my writing secret, because it was a source of mockery and ridicule in my family. My brother’s creative talent for drawing was celebrated. My talent for writing was not. My parents were not interested in it in the least. It was never taken seriously. Not even by me, even though I kept on doing it in secret, hiding my scribbles here and there in my room.
When I went to college, I continued to toe the line with regard to my parents’ expectations. I was supposed to get good grades. I did that. I was supposed to major in a certain thing. I did that. I was supposed to go to law school. I did that, too. At one point, right before I moved for law school, I realized I did not want to do this. I wanted to take a step back and think about what I wanted for my own future. But my parents were adamant that I not delay. “If you don’t go now, you will never do it,” they said. And I didn’t believe in myself enough to voice the logical reply that rang through my mind: “And so what if I don’t?” I didn’t believe in myself enough. I wasn’t strong enough. And so, I went. I moved to a town I hated. I suffered through 3 years of school that I hated. I worked in a profession I hated.
And so, here I am. I am almost 50 years old. And I still have no idea who I am. I still have no idea what I want. I don’t know what my dreams are. Or if I even still have dreams. I mean … is it too late for that? I’m a mom. Does that mean my time is over? Does that mean my daughter is the one to have dreams now, and I am only here to make her dreams a reality? Do I only exist to make others happy?
But this can’t be right, either. Can it? Because thinking about this … thinking about how I have never been a “real” person to anyone around me … It feels wrong. Like, maybe it’s the truth, but I don’t want it to be the truth. It’s not MY truth. I want to have dreams. I want to figure out who I am and what I want. I want to work at making my own dreams come true.
But, if I have never let myself dream or plan or hope or want, do you think it has now become impossible for me to do so? If I have been trained, from the earliest age, to be a person who wants nothing and only makes the best of whatever is handed to her, do you think it is possible to change this? If I make a conscious, concerted effort to sit down and think about what I want from my own life, do you think it is possible to undo a whole lifetime of “this is how you are”?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t. But I feel that part of being kind to myself in 2019 has to be sitting down to think through all of these things. I have to start taking a step back from what others want. I have to start actively thinking to myself, “Self, what do YOU want? Is it the same as what others want from you? Or is it different?” I have to start thinking about the person I am and the person I want to be. I have to start figuring out how to believe in myself. Even a little bit.
Will I be any good at this? Honestly, I don’t think I will — at first. But I think, with practice, maybe I can get better at it. Maybe I will always stumble and get tangled up in the expectations of others. But, if I realize I am doing this, that is an improvement. And learning how to untangle myself will be like taking giant leaps and bounds forward, instead of the marching in place I have been doing for most of my life.
So, let’s do this, 2019. Let’s figure out how to dream our big dreams — at last.