Note from Ellen: You may feel this is a little controversial. It’s not designed that way, only to make you think. The examples in it are just that, examples. But if you feel challenged by them, ask yourself why. Maybe there’s something to play with, there…gently.
Every day you make thousands of tiny choices.
Coffee or tea? The sofa or the chair? Which cubicle in the bathroom?
Small choices, but nonetheless a choice.
There are bigger ones, too. Decisions based on the core parts of who we are.
Will I get a steady job? Will I change my name when I get married? Will I live in the town I’ve grown up in, or will I move elsewhere? Will I follow the path those around me follow, or do something different?
Decisions you sometimes make…by not making a decision.
How Unconventional Choices Change Your Perspective
I’ve made some unconventional choices. I’m a vegetarian. I gave up my 9-5 consulting job to be a writer. I base myself out of Thailand despite having grown up in the UK.
Each time I make a choice to do something atypical, it forces me to really think that path through. Going against what everyone else thinks or does isn’t always easy, and you need to be really sure why you’re doing it.
When I became a vegetarian, twenty three years ago, it wasn’t a simple decision. I liked the taste of meat, but I wasn’t comfortable with killing an animal, and it seemed hypocritical to get someone else to do it. For integrity, I had to give it up, though I also acknowledged that if it was me or the piglet, it would be the piglet. It wasn’t a belief I would die for. However, all the time I could survive, and thrive, without meat, I would.
This isn’t a piece about being a vegetarian, or converting people to that choice. But to become a vegetarian, I had to think it through. I made a conscious choice. And I wondered, how many people have made the same active decision about eating meat? Have reasoned through the implications and consequences, and made a choice to eat meat? Or do they eat meat because everyone else does?
Whose Myths Do You Live By?
Sometimes we forget that we have choices. Before I left my 9-5, I lived by the myths of those around me, in my western, privileged, white, middle class world (which, don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about. I had a great upbringing which meant that I have the potential to make choices. I appreciate how lucky I am, and I wouldn’t change my life).
The myth went something like: go to school, attend university, get a job, earn money, buy a property, get promoted, pay tax, get a car, find a partner, get married, have children, and send them off to do the same (here’s a song I love about this).
Now, before you panic, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with any of these. That life served me well for years. And I do plenty of things that are very much ‘typical’. My clothes, my choice in music, my love of Ikea furniture – none of these are especially edgy.
Rather, I realise looking back that I didn’t actively choose this path, but took it because it was the way of things. I lived by other people’s myths, I didn’t choose my own.
Four years ago, my myth took a different path. I’d ticked off some items – gone to school, university, got a job, earned money, got promoted, bought a property, paid tax, got a car.
Then things went a bit off piste. My myth suddenly didn’t look so like that of the people I knew.
- Leave the country. Travel. Find a new career. Find several new careers.
- Be a writer, and a consultant, and a psychologist, and a blogger, and a facilitator, and many roles instead of one role.
- Earn money where you can, how you can, as long as it’s aligned to your values, and trade on your unique skill set.
Suddenly, I had no blueprint to follow.
Why Should You Make a Conscious Choice?
What’s so wrong with doing what everyone else does, I hear you ask (perhaps a little put out).
Absolutely nothing, if it was a proactive decision.
And sometimes, we have other people to take into account. We don’t make decisions in a vacuum. We have to weigh the consequences of hard decisions. Consider whether the impact is worth it.
But when we just go along other people’s path, when we don’t put a little thought into what we’re doing, whatever we eventually decide, we can experience cognitive dissonance – where our actions and our thoughts are not aligned.
When we have cognitive dissonance, we end up rationalising oddities away, or putting efforts into making twisty choices somehow seem more appropriate.
An example of this, might be people who say: “I don’t eat meat if it looks like meat.”
It always feels to me when someone is saying that, that the underlying message is, “I don’t want to eat meat if I know it’s dead animal.”
I’m a vegetarian, so I clearly have a view on this, so you’ll have to take that into account, but I feel that it would be better for people to understand the choice they are making, and then make an informed decision about whether or not they want to eat meat. My father was someone who was like that – he’d thought through what being a meat eater meant to him, and made a choice to do that, rather than eating meat because it was what everyone did. He understood and accepted the implications and consequences of the choice.
Mind you, he and I had to decide how to live with each other’s choices. He cooked veggie meals for me when I came home, and I accepted him, and others, eating meat around me.
What Do You Choose?
This isn’t a morality piece. The point isn’t to tell you that living by any particular choice or set of choices isn’t wrong. I think the world is a better and more interesting place with a diversity of choices.
But I ask you to gently question the choices you make. To understand whose myth you are living. To ensure you make conscious choices, rather than following the crowd without thought.
Try a thought experiment. What, in your life, seems the most natural thing in the world to you? Flip that paradigm around in your head, and imagine it was different. For example, if having a steady job with a regular salary is, ask yourself why – imagine life if you chose to be an entrepreneur. If a monogamous marriage is, ask yourself why – imagine life if you chose to be polyamorous and never get married. If living in your country of birth is, you guessed it…ask yourself why, and imagine life if you chose to live in another country.
When we let things happen, without stepping back and checking we have made a proactive decision that they would be that way, we can be surprised or disappointed when the secret dreams in our hearts aren’t fulfilled. But we have to take accountability for that.
How can they be when we’re following someone else’s script?
When we’re mouthing words someone else has written?
When we’ve never really considered the meaning behind the myth, the choices, the dream?
Choose the life you’re living. Determine your own way forward. Decide the path you want to take.
It’s okay if it’s the same as everyone else. And it’s okay if it’s different.
As long as you made a conscious choice.