September 30, 2016

Owning Our Choices: The Power Within


Blogger Galen Pearl is is one of my favorite writers. She is also a very good friend to Betty and me. So, I wasn't surprised when I asked her to write a guest post and she quickly agreed. You probably know her from the 10 Steps To Finding Your Happy Place blog, or her latest effort, No Way Cafe.

Here is her insight on an important satisfying retirement topic: choice. I look forward to your comments.


“I have no choice!” Recently, several people spoke these words to me while describing situations that were causing them deep distress. The situations were very different, but in each case, my first thought was, “Of course you have a choice.”

In one situation, for example, the parents were in despair over an adult child who was still living at home. Not an unusual scenario these days. But the adult child was not making any effort to find work or otherwise contribute to the household. On the contrary, she took over the living room, falling asleep on the couch watching TV till late at night, then screaming at her parents for waking her in the morning as they were getting ready to go to work.  

I’m not telling the story as a critique of their parenting style. What struck me about the story was the parents' perception that they had no choice but to suffer under the tyranny of a child who, if evicted, might end up in danger, or might, out of anger, distance herself from the family. The parents saw themselves as helpless and powerless victims of circumstances rather than as a people who were making a choice.

That story is a dramatic example, but there are other, less obvious, more mundane examples. I’m thinking of my mother who lived a full and blessed life, but who, in her later years, frequently said, “Aging is a bitch.” So succinct! Now that I am among the aging, I hear her words repeated in countless variations among my peers, often with a sense of resignation, sometimes bitterness, or even anger, but always with a sense of helplessness. Yet when questioned, the folks expressing this view frequently identify reasons that are based in choice.

Marianne Williamson wrote that our deepest fear is not that we are powerless. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

One of the greatest powers we have is the power to choose. Yet this is a power we are so quick to abdicate. Why would we prefer to be powerless rather than own our choices? Because owning our choices means accepting responsibility for their consequences. We are no longer a victim, and there is no longer someone or something to blame. It is tremendously liberating and scary, all at the same time.

Bob posted an excellent article on this blog about five things successful retirees do well. As I looked for a theme in these five things, what became apparent to me was that the attributes Bob identified all involve recognizing our power to make choices, and then consciously making choices that enhance our well being and the well being of others.

Just recognizing that we have a choice, regardless of which path we choose, can be beneficial. When my friend with the difficult adult child could see that she really had a choice, she was able to examine the reasons she was making the choice to let her child stay. Once she owned her choice, she felt more at peace. And more willing to explore other choices in the future.

The subtitle of this blog is “Passionate About Living a Retired life with Purpose & Joy.” Passion, purpose, and joy all come from within ourselves, from claiming our power to choose, and owning the choices we make.

Next time you hear yourself think or say “I have no choice,” look a little deeper. I bet you’ll find one hiding somewhere, waiting for you.


I could choose to see this differently. ~A Course in Miracles


Thank you, Galen. You have shown us a potential for positive change that too many of us have a tendency to overlook. 

22 comments:

  1. Very good philosophy. Indeed we have choices, and even if they don't turn out well we have the power to make new ones.

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    1. You raise an important point, Dick. Owning our choices means accepting all the consequences, good and not so good. However, as you say, we then have a choice about how to respond to those consequences.

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  2. We always have a choice but the problem is often we do not like any of our choices. In some cases, each and every one has big downsides.

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    1. That can certainly seem true, FredT. Choices are rarely as clear as we would like, and the consequences are often complex and mixed. However, one thing to think about is that what we consider a big downside might turn out differently that what we anticipate. Whether something is a downside or not is often a matter of our own judgment. And guess what, we have a choice about our judgments, too!

      Even if we see certain consequences as downsides, what I've found is that owning my choices makes me feel less of a helpless victim of those outcomes. Choosing doesn't always mean that everything turns out exactly the way we want it to be. Wouldn't that be nice?!

      For example, the friend I mentioned in the post still chose to let her adult child stay at home for the time being. However, once she saw that she was choosing this, she realized that it was within her power to make a different choice when she was ready. And in the meantime, she was less focused on her child's behavior, which she could not control, and more focused on her own behavior and attitude.

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  3. I agree that saying "I have no choice" is absolutist and defeatist. On the other hand, as a retired person moving into my aging years, the constant bombardment directed at retirees and the aging by media sources, bloggers, AARP, and anyone else caring to chime in, that retirees and the aging should re-invision themselves, face life with new invigorated passion, become the person you never were, and find new purpose, yada yada, is getting a little cloying and wearisome. I do agree that for some, but maybe a rare few given the large number of retirees, that retirement can afford a radical, self-redesigning break with the past, a reconfiguration of self perhaps. I think though that for the vast majorities different scenarios might dominate--relief at even reaching retirement, perhaps accompanied by exhaustion; boredom because one had no life outside work and how has no life; struggles with debilitating conditions whether economic, health, or SES related in other ways, or perhaps just the desire to lead a peaceful, quiet and satisfying life, in whatever ways one defines satisfaction.

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    1. B.E., I hear you! I'm exhausted sometimes by the commercials depicting seniors out there doing extreme sports, always glowing, always bursting with gaiety, always looking perfect. Whew! And always having those special moments--ha!

      I think the key word in your comment is "should" as in retirees "should" re-envision themselves. Owning our choices relieves us of that "should" mindset. We have the freedom to choose to lead our lives in, as you say, whatever ways one defines satisfaction.

      You mentioned as an example someone who is bored because she had not life outside work. This reminded me of a friend who is very lonely for just this reason. He feels very resigned to his lack of social life and quietly suffers. Yet he chooses not to do anything that would give him some opportunities to meet some folks and engage in some activities he would enjoy. If he is not going to choose to be more social, then he could choose to find more satisfaction in his solitary life. But first you have to see that you have a choice.

      The problem comes when the choices that we are in fact making are at odds with the way we envision our lives. We can either acknowledge and accept the choices that we are making, or, once we see that we have a choice, we can choose differently to be more in alignment with what we say we want.

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  4. Today's post reminds me of Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, where he explains that regardless of the circumstances, we have the choice of how we react. Thanks for helping me re-frame my recent whines!

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    1. Bonnie, isn't that a great book?! Such a dramatic example of discovering the choices we can make, even in the midst of devastating circumstances beyond our control.

      About the whines, sometimes a little whining gives us some self-indulgent pleasure. I have, on occasion, "chosen" to allow myself a certain amount of time for whining. It helps me put things in perspective. I can decide how much whining a particular situation is worth. Then, when you compare your situation to someone like Frankl, you might decide that the situation is only worth a very short time of whining, or even not a all. You might even shift the whining to gratitude! But a little whining now and then is not so bad a thing. The key is to acknowledge that you are making a choice.

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  5. I think B.E. Johnson hits the nail on the head. I think it is only a minority of retirees who re-invision themselves, face life with new invigorated passion, become the person they never were, and find new purpose. I would like to know what the majority of retirees are actually doing.

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    1. This is an interesting thread that BE started and you picked up on. I wonder if people who retire believe that they should do something dramatically different. Is there some concept of retirement that requires us to reinvent ourselves? What if we are already satisfied with ourselves and our lives? The power of choice doesn't mean that we have to choose something different. And the power of choice doesn't begin at retirement. It is something we always have. And opting not to change is a perfectly valid choice. Thanks for continuing the discussion.

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  6. We all have choices .My choice is to make time each day for 13 minutes to worry and i look at my clock.It is very hard to worry for 13 minutes.
    Some people have disabled children and I often think what choices they have.Saffron - Australia

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    1. What a great exercise--limiting your time to worry, and then finding out that you can't even fill up that time. That is great.

      I was intrigued by your reference to parents of children with disabilities. I'd like to know more about what you mean if you feel like following up with another comment. I have children with disabilities, so this issue of choice has been a personal one for me in that context. I hope you will share more of your thoughts on that.

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  7. Hi Galen,Parents make adult children disabled by not letting them became independent(your friends with horrible daughter ) .Parents with disabled children do everything possible to make them use skills that they have and I admire them for that. Regards Saffron

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    1. Thanks for the additional comment, Saffron. I understand better what you meant now. That's an interesting perspective about how parents can create disabilities for their children by not helping them become self sufficient. Even a child with disabilities can be more independent than we think when they have the support they need. You've given me something to think about!

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  8. Twenty years ago, we made the "choice" to move across country. When expressing some concerns to my brother, he responded "You know, the moving trucks go both ways."

    Simple, yet profound. It reminded me choices need not be permanent. I often think of that comment when considering other choices.

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    1. Daryl, I had a similar experience when I moved to Portland. I wasn't sure I would like it, and I told myself I could always move again. However, I never generalized that the way you have. Now that is my favorite saying. Thank you!

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  9. At every moment you have the right to choose. This quote hung beside my desk at work for years, reminding me that I was making a choice to be there.
    I've had the privilege of working with people moving through grief experiences. It never ceased to amaze me how resilient some of these people were. Whenever I asked them how it was that they could move forward in life when such a terrible thing had happened, they often replied with - I have no choice, not recognizing that they were exercising their choice.
    I would remind people that we're not always in control of the outcome, but we certainly are in control of the choice.

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    1. Mona, great quote and great comment about grief and choice. In your example, it's interesting that the people grieving found motivation to move forward in the idea of having no choice, when, in fact, as you said, they were making a choice. More often, the sense of having no choice leaves people feeling helpless, but that was not the case in your example. Thanks for your added perspective.

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  10. "Marianne Williamson wrote that our deepest fear is not that we are powerless. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." This point really struck home. I am moving toward retiring. As I contemplate the "when" and "where" of retirement, I find that I am at times paralyzed with the huge number of possibilities. So many choices that are within my power to make! This is a tremendous opportunity for a rich and fulfilling period of life, one that I am profoundly grateful for, and yet I feel anxious about making the decisions that are within my power to make. Why is it so much easier to just go along with the familiar structure of work, work, work, than to launch into this next life phase?
    Jude

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    1. You raise an interesting point, Jude. Studies show that we are more afraid of uncertainty than we are of physical pain! Our brains are wired to find answers and to find them quickly. I just wrote a post about courage. It takes courage to tolerate the uncertainty of change, to breathe into the liminal space of possibility, to wait for clarity. Your experience of anxiety in the face of such a huge life transition is so understandable and, I suspect, universal. I felt it, too, when making the decision to retire.

      Your description of yourself as paralyzed by so many choices reminds me of my daughter trying to order in a restaurant. She is so convinced that there is just one right choice and that her enjoyment of dinner is dependent on figuring out just which choice is the only right one. I'm not making fun of your trepidation, and I'm not comparing a dinner choice to the enormity of a major life transition. What I question, though, is the basic premise that there is only one right choice.

      Whatever you choose, I was just thinking that Bob's blog is so full of information and guidance. So much at your fingertips here!

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  11. As always, Galen say what we all feel but don't have the words for. Owning our choices is so important. We need to be very careful not to blame another for we have brought on ourselves.

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    1. Galen writes very well and always has something to say that is worth our time to read and contemplate.

      Thanks, Barbara. Your comment got lost in the shuffle. I am sorry it is late in posting.

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