Making Choices is About Living with the Consequences
It’s incredibly difficult to know whether a choice is good or bad in the moment. One approach to making choices comfortably is knowing the potential consequences and being able to live with them.
Jul 03, 2023
A few months ago, I was thinking about all the ways our lives are determined by our parents and their abilities, where we grow up, what we have access to. Despite our paths loosely carved out from birth, I do believe we have a level of choice. There are many moments both big and small we retain the autonomy to decide how we will act or what will happen next. What’s important for me is being comfortable with the choices I make and the consequences I may face, good and bad.
When I finally began making decisions of my own as a young adult, life happened to me. I made decisions about the choices that merely fell at my feet, rarely did I seek them out. I went to cosmetology school because my best friend made me sign up with her; I went to community college because I couldn’t leave my family after my dad died; I signed up for university because I met an outreach person (who ended up being one of my favorite professors) sitting alone one warm, lonely day on my college campus who told me the university’s satellite campus had a specific enrollment pipeline for students from my community college. Each of these choices presented themselves to me and happened to make sense at the time.
Many of my early choices were underscored with intuition. Because I didn’t know much of anything, I turned my life over to the knowledge of my ancestors. I appreciate this about my younger self. I wouldn’t do things that didn’t feel “right.” I still don’t, but my younger self was really tapped into this intuitive barometer. My younger self understood the ancient knowledge at the root of this intuition took care of me. But the older I get, the more I try to take an active role in my decision making. I want to know the choice I’m making is right for me—to the extent I’m able to “know” at all. I know myself well enough to recognize what I can and cannot live with, so I begin my decision-making process using this awareness in the hope of setting my future self up for success.
As someone who would consider themself “practical,” it’s odd to discuss my belief in intuition—especially when it comes to making the right choice. There have been too many times in my life that feeling something out has led to the right choice. So many times, it becomes hard to discount. "Intuition" is a “learned response that [is] not the [outcome] of deliberate processes,” and some scientists propose the process of decision-making is “split between intuitive (experiential or tacit) and analytical (rational or deliberate).” Just based on personal experience, this rings true: Making a decision is a mix of intuition and conscious deliberation. Depending on the choice, one may hold more weight than the other.
Follow-through is another aspect of making good choices. Many of the choices I happenstance-ly made could’ve easily led nowhere, but I started something, and I finished it. It’s a tendency I still have. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it. I started cosmetology school, and I graduated and got my license. I started college, and I graduated with my associates and transferred to the university to complete my bachelors. It’s hard to say where I developed the wherewithal to buckle down and finish something, but I count it as one of my strengths. The “good” of each of my initial choices was accompanied and strengthened by the skill to persist.
One of the most crucial facets of choice is being able to live with bad ones. It’s easy to celebrate the wins; it’s easiest to forget the losses. Bad choices are embarrassing and signal failure—at least that’s what we’re taught. What only a bad choice can teach you is: It’s incredibly difficult to know a choice is bad in the moment. I’ve made plenty of choices that seemed good at the time that later proved bad from dating dead-end people for far too long to investing money into the wrong stocks to simply saying the wrong thing. I’ve also made choices that seemed bad in the moment, and I made them anyway, like ignoring red flags or failing to speak up when I was being mistreated at work. These choices don’t detract from who I am or all the good I’ve done. At the end of each bad choice, I just picked myself up with the help of my friends and family and worked to move forward. Some bad choices I’m still living with, but I’m luckily not one that needs the same lesson twice. I’ve taken the L and know what to do (or not) next time.
I’m a culmination of the choices I and others have made on my behalf. Despite the uncertainty masking each choice, I’ve somehow landed in a place that I’m content with and grateful for. I’ll continue making choices. Some will be good, some will be bad, some will be neither good nor bad. What I do know is it comes down to being able to live with the consequences, and I’ll only make a choice that I know I’ll be able to live with.