“The choices that we make in life, indeed determine the kind of results that we experience and the quality of the life we live.” – Sumeet Jain
We are choice making machines, with our ability to make choices a key factor of what defines us as human beings. It is said we make over 30,000 choices per day, with seemingly small ones, like what to eat or what to wear, to BIG ones like where to work, or who to spend your life with. With this in mind, my over 50 years on the planet would account for over 500 million choices and counting!
But when I think about the idea of choice and how the sum total of mine have determined my path through life, I can’t help but think that even with 500 million opportunities I still have often not been the conscious choice leader of my own life. So why do I have an obvious disconnect with over 500 million chances to determine my own path?
When thinking about the subject of choice (or the feeling of lack of choice) I am strangely reminded of high school, more specifically the mandatory dance class we all had to take to pass physical education. It was a painful event, where a group of 17 year olds were forced to learn the waltz, fox trot and other dreadful dance moves that I have conveniently blocked from my memory. Believe me, if I had a choice in the matter, I would have skipped the cringe worthy torture of high school dance. But the reason this comes to mind, is not the evident lack of choice I had, but instead that I remember being told over and over again, “only one person leads, and the other follows”. If both dance partners try to lead, toes are stepped on, rhythm is lost and then disaster ensues
The dance of life begins with our parents. We are young, helpless and 100% reliant on them for all of our basic needs, from safety/security, fun to love and connection. They lead and we follow our instincts with the goal to survive and thrive. But as we grow older and a bit bolder, we attempt to lead, inventing a couple dance moves of our own, expressing options, ideas and attitudes that run contrary to our parents’ ideals. They are not bad people, but in the spirit of keeping us safe and in their view functioning, they will often disapprove of our new moves and if we don’t comply and fall into step we suffer consequences. We often feel confused and unsafe, so we give them back the lead, shelving our new moves for another day. Our choices are limited to the ones that meet our parent’s approval and the smooth slow of daily life. They set the conditional rules of safety, fun and love we so strongly desire. Their choices lock in as the fabric of our reality.
I don’t know about you but I could not WAIT to start making my own choices and get away from my parents lead. So, at 19 thinking I knew everything, I struck out on my own. Not just moving out of the house in town, but moving right across the country to the west coast of Canada. Attempting to get as physically far away from the shadow of my parents influence as I could, so I could begin make my own choices and define my own life. Looking back I can see there was a small sliver of freedom at that moment, my dance moves were my own for a split second, but then life and unconscious choices took over.
(step step shuffle shuffle step step)
The dance of life continued, soon after moving to the west coast I met a lady that later became my wife and mother of our three daughters. We were both very young and extremely determined to do life differently than our parents. But due to our youth and inexperience we kept falling back to old ways of being, unaware that we were just repeating deeply ingrained unconscious behaviors. We did our best to provide each other our human needs of safety, fun, freedom and love, but as our blueprints were flawed, we failed over and over again. Ultimately this dance with dysfunction ended in divorce, with lots of suffering along the way. All the well-meaning intentions of loving connection could not stop the runaway disaster train of unconscious choices calling the shots of our daily lives.
“We make our choices, then our choices make us.” – Anonymous
All of us want to be the conscious choice leaders of our own lives, with the freedom to call the shots. If you would have asked me at 19 years old I would have insisted on pain of death that I was the one making all the choices. The same would have held true at the ages of 25, 30, 35, 40. You get the picture. I know I am not alone when I say, we all THINK we are making the choices that determine the direction of our lives. But in my case I have 500+ million reasons to challenge this assumption.
Don’t get me wrong; the choice blueprint given to us by our parents, teachers and society, is not all bad. In fact for most of us, it is generally good. If we had to make 30,000+ full conscious decisions a day, we would get nothing done. But the key to getting into the driver’s seat of our life’s daily choices is to embrace that many of the decisions we make are not our own. They are significantly influenced by deeply ingrained subconscious patterns from the past. On the good side, the more often we shine a light on these old patterns; we have the opportunity to more deeply understand their influence on our lives.
(shuffle shuffle spin hand clap shuffle step…do the hustle)
“All our power and choice lies in the present moment – right here and now.” -Clare Josa
To deny we have many dance partners in life that are often struggling to take the lead would be to disconnect from our daily reality. Some partners seem obvious, from spouses, family, friends, co-workers and bosses. To the subtler, societal expectations, our childhood upbringing, past pains, even our past wins (to name a few). But being keenly aware and accepting that there are a multitude of influences (both seen and unseen) on our daily choices will firmly put you in the lead in your dance with life.
It’s your life, your dance, and your conscious choice to lead or follow. The good news is that today is a new day and you have 30,000+ opportunities to make choices that put you in the driver’s seat to lead you to a life you love.
Great piece Dave, you have captured the essence of it really well. As you know I love the dancing metaphor and who are you dancing with? What if our partner is always ourself, even when it looks like we are dancing with someone else or life?