When we make decisions for ourselves, why do we make those decisions? Whether it be something small – like what we have for lunch – or something big – like what we want to do for a living – we have to ask ourselves: why am I making this decision?
I, like most people, have wants. My personality is like a small child – I chase the shiny things. When the object I am chasing no longer appears shiny, or offers me no value, I tire of it and move onto something else. This is fine if you are pursuing a hobby or looking for a television show to watch, but it is not ideal for major life choices (or relationships, for that matter).
When I made the decision to go to nursing school, it was for a variety of reasons. A high-paying job, the opportunity to help people, a flexible schedule for my family, room for growth in my career, etc. But, there was another piece that I am realizing was a major mistake: it seemed like a safe bet, a thing that met my needs and would be a “grownup” decision, something I should do.
I am now realizing that should is quite possibly my least favorite word in the universe.
“Should” has nothing to do with the self, it has everything to do with external pressures. Yes, we do put these external pressures on ourselves, but they also come from years and years of a structured society. Don’t paint outside the lines – we are taught that in kindergarten when working on our fine motor skills. We shouldn’t stay up too late, we shouldn’t eat that cupcake (it’ll go straight to our thighs, right?), and we shouldn’t have promiscuous sex. I can’t speak for other people, but every time I make a decision I think to myself, What should I do? Not what do I want to do, but what should I do?
Some of this comes from not wanting to be judged, some of it comes from behaving in a way that I deem morally sound, and some it comes from my wish to be a “responsible adult with good judgement”. That last piece – good judgement – is especially important to me, because I have a track record for making poor judgement calls. I always pick the wrong guy (present partner excluded) and I always spend money without really thinking about the future. I tend to rely on emotion rather than rational thought in my decision-making process, and I tend to make really bad judgement calls under pressure.
Naturally, every decision has consequences – cause and effect. These consequences may not always be negative, but there will always be something that happens from a decision made. When I look at my life thus far, aware that in under a year I will be 25, I can very clearly see the results of terrible decision-making. The one that has had the most impact on my recently would be, of course, marrying the wrong guy.
I used to say that it wasn’t a mistake and that I wouldn’t take it back, but that’s just not true anymore. It was absolutely a mistake. I don’t say this to be hurtful or hateful, but I do realize that it was a huge judgement error. It was so evident that we were not meant for each other from the get-go – had I been paying attention to that instead of the aching loneliness, I would have ended that relationship inside of the first three months. Instead, the relationship lasted four years and ended in divorce. Even taking the events that led to the divorce out of the equation, we were never going to be happy. We were just too different. Since then, I like to think I have a better understanding of my own wants and needs and can make smarter choices when it comes to a partner. I like to think I can tell pretty quickly if someone is a good match for me – on a logical level rather than an emotional one – and so I feel confident in that area.
Relationships are unique because the blinding emotional passion one person feels for another cannot sustain it – there has to be a friendship underneath all of that. There has to be communication and trust and compatibility. Making logical decisions in my love life, I have found, actually creates passion that can last. The burning-hot feeling you get when you first meet someone can fizzle out after a few dates or a few weeks, but to build something strong from the ground up creates a fire that burns for a long time. Think striking a match versus building a solid group of coals. Everyone knows that a match burns out quickly, but it burns hot and bright. Coals take more time and patience, but that shit will burn all night long.
Anyway, when it comes to making a decision about my life plan – as much as I can, anyway – I have found myself approaching it with the same (almost cold) logical thinking. Take the passion out of it, Kyrston. Take out the immediate wants and needs, because your entire life has been a series of unfortunate events from that way of thinking. Unfortunately, I have gone from one spectrum to the other. I picked the thing that I wanted to pour myself into – my relationship – and it completely fell apart. I mean, it fell apart that there was no possible way it could have been repaired. Shattered, irrevocably. The idea of pouring myself into anything like that makes my skin crawl.
Something has been gnawing at my conscience the past few weeks and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I felt… a growing dissatisfaction with everything, and I didn’t know how to make it stop. I had lunch with my mom and she explained what she so clearly saw and I could not see – that I got burned and I don’t want to go anywhere near the flame again. There is nothing in my life that I pour myself into, and that is so unlike me – the child that chases the shiny things – and she said it was alarming.
I gave this some thought, and talked it over with my boyfriend, and he immediately said to me “Oh yeah, you’re a fair-weather person.”
This shocked me. I would never describe myself as “fair-weather”. I abhor those kinds of people, the ones that are only around when things are going fine and bail when it gets real. I typically sink neck-deep into whatever I am doing. Unfortunately, I also sink farther than that most of the time – with terrible results. For right now, I’m being described as being ankle-deep in just about everything, and prepared to hop out at a moment’s notice. No wonder I feel so miserable!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly happy. I enjoy my job, I love my boyfriend and our relationship, I love my friends and family, and I am really enjoying school. But, at the same time, I really feel a lack of direction. I realized that I made the decision to go to nursing school based on shoulds and not based on wants and it pissed me off. I said to myself – fuck that. I’m not doing something I don’t want to do.
But what do I want to do? I have no idea, and that’s the problem.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine about it, and she asked me what I like to do. Well, shit, where do I start? I like all kinds of stuff. Shiny things, remember? But, at the same time, I am quick to explain why I shouldn’t do any of those things. Fair-weather all over again.
I like to fix broken things. Broken people, mostly. I like listening to people and helping them understand themselves or offering some piece of guidance that may help. A fresh perspective. I’m not saying I have all the answers, but it’s pretty likely that you already do and you just need to be told that you do. So, psychology, right? Motivational speaker? Life-coach? Well, I’ve considered that about a billion times. The list of reasons why I shouldn’t is impressive, but I will spare you all of them because it’s all bullshit.
I like to teach people. It makes me feel good to help someone else learn something – especially if it is something they think they will NEVER figure out. They feel pride in themselves once they have learned, and I feel pride in them, and I feel pride in myself for helping someone learn something. For having an impact. So, trainer? Teacher? Yes, I’ve considered those too. About a billion times. Again, I will spare you the bullshit list.
I like to be in charge, but I don’t want to manage people. I don’t really like to be in charge of other people, but I like to be in charge of how to do something. I like to boss people around, but I don’t want the responsibility of a group of human beings. I completely understand that I sound like a brat, but that’s just how I feel. I like leadership roles.
I like to take care of people. I like to provide for them. I have a nurturing spirit. I don’t know if I was born this way or taught to be this way, but I have always been this way. As a small child, I would take care of my little sister to help my parents. I would feed her and play with her and make sure she was safe. As an adult, I like to do things for people. I like to cook them dinner, or clean their cars and apartments, and give them hugs and kisses. So – parent, wife.
Parent. That’s the real crux of it all. I know that I am intelligent, and I know that I am talented, but every time someone I know gets pregnant, I am so jealous. Not jealous in a hateful way, but sad. I ask myself – when will it be my turn to have a family of my own? I am trying to be patient, and make choices that will benefit my family, but it feels like a waste to not have a husband to take care of and children to raise. I don’t know why I feel this way. I don’t exactly feel empty without it, but I feel like it’s the only thing that matters to me. It’s the only thing that has consistently mattered my entire life.
I didn’t go to culinary school because I didn’t want to have a career that negatively impacted my future children, which is a pretty heavy thing for a high school graduate to be thinking about. I got married because I wanted a husband and a family. I was even trying to get pregnant when most people would say that I had no business doing so. I would spend time with my friends that had kids because I liked playing with their kids, but there was always this twinge of sadness that I was only playing pretend – they weren’t my kids to love like that.
So why don’t I just do that already, you ask? Well, because I shouldn’t. I should finish school and be settled in a stable job and have a secure financial status and own a home before I start a family. I should be more of a grownup. I should take all of this intelligence and potential and talent and do something with it before having a family.
Here is a thought that I commonly have – and please trust me when I tell you that I don’t actually FEEL this way and I do not want to offend anyone – I could be so much more than a “stay at home mom”. Just typing those words – it makes me cry. Because it isn’t true! Being a wife and a mom, and having that be the thing that I pour myself into – there is nothing wrong with that. There is no shame, nothing to be embarrassed of. It’s freeing to say it and own it, but at the same time I am secretly wondering what people will think, and I hate that I even have these thoughts at all!
This is the problem. We live in a society where women have been downtrodden all their lives and there has been so much movement to create equality in the workplace and in society. Many women before me have worked their asses off so that I may do more with my existence than keep a home and make babies. But, what if that’s the thing I’m not only really good at, but the thing I really want? How do I un-learn this socially-created mindset? How can I say, with pride, that I want to put having a family first and the rest will sort itself out? I don’t really want to live my life based on shoulds or what people will think of me, but I certainly don’t want anyone to think “Wow, what a waste of potential. What a shame. She could have accomplished so much more than just being a mom.”
There is not such thing as just being a mom. It takes work and patience and kindness and generosity of spirit. To have a child is to create a human life and shape it into the person that will go out into the world and do things that really matter. My parents created me, and here I am, a free-thinker and an independent human being with so much to give. It doesn’t matter that they had kids “too young” or any of the bullshit that people may have said about them twenty years ago. Look at what they made! I’m a rock star! What can be more valuable that creating another rock star that can go out and change the world?
Do I want to quit school right this minute and make a baby? No, I can be a little more patient than that. Do I want to wait five more years? Oh god, the concept of it just makes my stomach hurt. Actually, I think I am intelligent and talented enough to do both. There is certainly a long line of women in my family that did both, and they are all successful. But, enough already. Every decision I make – including the one to go back to school – it’s all about getting to that point. I am enjoying my kid-free life, but I’m just killing time until I can have kids. It’s frustrating as hell and feels like false. Both my parents have said to me – if that’s what really matters, then do it. But, at the same time, I feel that external pressure of shoulds to go to school and get a great job and be more stable. In reality, since the dawn of human existence we have been making more human beings with what we’ve got. Personally, I don’t think it matters whether you have a million bucks or your dirt poor. I think it matters who you are and how you want to impact the world. In just the way that you can donate thousands of dollars to your community kitchen if you are rich, you can also donate your time if you are poor and have just as much of an impact. Who gets to decide how we live our lives, and who put them in charge?
I really have to wrap this up – because I have to take a shower and get to school – but I will leave you with this. I just spurted out the result of a crisis of conscience, if you will, and this is the take-away: there is should and there is want and every decision has a consequence. My advice for myself, and others, is that we should try to live the lives we want to live – as much as we possibly can. We should not make choices based on how we think we should live, only how we want to live. We should chase the shiny things, immerse ourselves in our passions, and let our hearts lead the way. We are a resilient species and we will always be okay… but don’t live your life for someone else. It’s like the gray-scale version of what your life could be. Life a life of color… and you will truly be at peace with yourself.