This is a universal truth, such as the one which says, ‘we are what we eat’ or the other about chains and weak links. Every one of us can reflect back over our past and point to moments of decision where the result eventually snatched us up and swept us off like a raging river. Maybe it was choosing to get in that car after one too many and now you have a record – or worse. Perhaps it was betraying your boss by taking that other job then later finding out they were going to pink slip you anyway. Some of these moments we still lament over while others we regard as epitaphs to our genius. Either way, their significance in channeling the course of our life can’t be underestimated.
I often play a game with my elementary age children as a way of testing their grasp on this concept. I present them with an option; the choice itself is of minor consequence because the lesson is what really matters. Each alternative will come with a reward and sacrifice. For example, do their chores now while their friends are outside playing and go see a movie later, or play with their friends now then do their chores but no movie at all.
To the minds of an eight and ten year each option has an equal weighting. “I really want to see that movie, but Tommy is playing outside RIGHT NOW!” My daughter, the ten year old, is a bit more thoughtful. She often wants to think about it while my son is quicker to pull the trigger. But lately they have started huddling amongst themselves to weigh the ups and downs as if contemplating a corporate merger.
What I enjoy most is seeing the struggle as they consider the pros and cons of each, and as with most kids I sometimes have to remind they can only choose one. Almost to the point of mental exhaustion, after each has presented the other with their argument for and against, a consensus is reached. The most amazing and gratifying part is how they usually choose the better of the alternatives.
I say ‘enjoy seeing their struggle’ because I’ve been in the same precarious and unenviable role of choosing between two competing possibilities. When one decision seems on the surface to be just as favorable as the other, but like my kids I often remind myself that I can choose only one. We’ve all been there. It’s those times when all I really want someone, usually smarter and grayer, to look me in the eye and say, “Kyle, this is what you’re going to do…” Maybe it’s a career change or financial decision; regardless it presents us with what feels like a life-or-death dilemma where one false step in our search for resolution can send us careening off a cliff into disaster.
In as many weeks I’ve had two conversations with men about their own quest for resolution. Each story shared commonalities. Both had a relationship problem and both believed the decision they chose was the hardest they’ve ever made.
As if reading from the same script they grieved, “Breaking up with her was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do.”
Which I responded to both “Then you probably made the right choice.”
Is it just me or have you also noticed that what we believe were our toughest decisions end up being some our best decisions? When after the dust settles we are able to look back with a sense of satisfaction that while the moment was painful we were able to do what needed to be done when we didn’t know if we could.
I can affirm this in my own life. After struggling for months on whether or not to give in and grant my ex wife a divorce I’m now very thankful I said ‘yes’. Or when I turned down that more lucrative job offer and burned a bridge in the process, then a year later discovered that had I accepted I’d be unemployed today.
From my experience I’m now convinced that when we are faced with those agonizing dilemmas; the times we immediately recognize whichever choice we make will have life altering consequences; it isn’t the competing choices themselves we are deciding between, instead the clash for resolution is a battle between conscience and emotion.
In each story the conflict these men faced was much deeper than merely severing the relationship and everything that comes with such a decision. Both men were vehement the relationship was over, they had laid out their rationale; now the challenge became overcoming the screams of objection from their emotions in light of what their conscience was whispering was the right thing to do.
Our emotions have this remarkable way of compelling us to doubt every decision we make for what seems no other purpose than its own satisfaction, be it pride, anger, greed, or fear. Even in those times when we’ve considered all the consequences, listened to the advice of others, and set forth our justifications, why do we still wonder if we’ve been too hasty, not understanding, too brash, judgmental, or arrogant? Why on the road to resolution do we knowingly take the wrong and hard way even though we understand that as we write the pages of our life it can never be done in pencil?