Life Is Not a Choose Your Own Adventure

I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid. I often got one at the beginning of a road trip to pass the time in the car or in my family’s camper while on vacation. I was determined to follow all of the paths available in the book. I wanted to exhaust every possibility. So I would go back and forth from each ending to the last choice not taken until I had chosen all there was to choose. That ability to go back and forth was an exciting one. Even choices that seemed bad were welcome because I always knew I could go back and make the “right” choice. There was a sense of completeness in choosing every choice and finding every ending. But real life doesn’t work like that. Real choices have real consequences and there is no going back.

Often the choice is between inflicting/receiving pain now or inflicting/receiving more pain later. And when other people are involved it makes the choices so much harder. The easy decision is to make the choice that pushes the negative consequences into the future. It’s harder to choose the pain now in favor of a better outcome later. But even those future consequences aren’t always certain either. Definite pain now or possibly more pain in the future? I’d like to eliminate as much suffering by everyone as possible, but without perfect knowledge that’s not always possible. It’s easy to make the wrong decision. Nearly every time I make an important decision I struggle with that reality. No amount of deliberating will make the aftermath easier. The unchosen possibilities flood my consciousness. A torrent of regrets, even if I feel like I chose the right thing. I don’t know if there’s a way around that.

I’ve been called overly analytically by more than one person on more than one occasion. Maybe that’s true. I tend to try to subordinate my emotions to my logic and reason whenever I am able.  That doesn’t mean I never allow my emotions dominate. That happens too. But I try not to let it when I am able. I just don’t trust my emotions to help me make decisions. That’s not to say I don’t give my feelings some weight in the decision process, but I am very aware of how easy it is for emotions to betray me. I suppose that’s why I try to let my analytical side have the reigns when I make decisions. I want to feel “good” after my decision, but that’s a very subjective thing. I also want to minimize feeling “bad.” There’s always a fear that I made the wrong decision. And depending on the decision there are times I can live with that feeling. There are times when living with that feeling may be harder than having made what I thought at the time was the wrong decision.

There is no going back. Even if you change your mind you’re still down the decision tree following your initial decision and its consequences. That first decision can never be erased. It’s not like flipping back to page 37 and choosing again. That’s just not possible. After writing all of this I am realizing I have no clear idea how I make decisions. It’s such a hodgepodge of feelings and reasoning that I don’t know how to untangle them in a clear way. I feel like I am constantly stumbling. I’d like to think that as I get older I’m gaining more knowledge and experience that leads to making better decisions. But I’m not convinced that’s true. In my second blog post, Being an Adult, I wrote: “Now I am not significantly more confident about my choices, but I am more able to accept being unsure. I can handle the idea of making the less than ideal choice better than I could at any point previously in my life.” When it comes to basic things like which appliance to buy, sure that might apply. But when it comes to the really important decisions I feel as incapable as I did when I was 20. I don’t yet know how to live comfortably with hard decisions. I’m not sure that I ever will. I’m full of doubts. I’m afraid of the regrets and the what-ifs.