I used to think that the term “mid-life crisis” referred to men who bought ridiculously expensive sports cars and toupees and started dating big busted women on the side. Then I hit my late 30’s. And so did my friends.
Suddenly we were wondering what we were doing with our lives and what the point of it all was. And we were ready for change. Choosing the direction of that change, however, proved to be harder than we expected. Apparently years of making decisions with disregard for our own desires and needs causes the compass to go off course. Maybe that is the true crisis.
I’ve never been great at making life decisions, but the last five years or so I’ve had to start honing that skill a bit and, maybe more importantly, I’ve realized that the choice really doesn’t matter in the long run.
I’m the master of “pros and cons” lists. I weight them, rewrite them, do them over again a week later after more thought, make color coded spreadsheets. Then I end up following my gut.
I found myself lost in the middle of my latest life decision, though, when suddenly my gut was no longer talking to me. She was completely out to lunch and giving me zero feedback. Apparently she doesn’t like being ignored and knows how to give as good as she gets, but she can be coaxed into sharing her wisdom again. Turns out she just wants some undivided attention. The external chatter has to be silenced from one to hear the still voice of reason inside.
So now I have a little process I go through to try to help myself make a choice when given two or more paths in life. I make that list of pros and cons, and I pay close attention to what I’m feeling in the pit of my stomach and that sensitive place in the back of my throat when the scales tip in favor of one thing over another. If, as all the pros begin to fall in one column, I begin to get that fullness of disappointment in my throat, I start to understand what I want. Sometimes I still go with the practical answer. Sometimes I don’t. But that list helps me see what the sensible decision is and often shows me what I want deep down in my heart.
Another thing I do is that I imagine life five or ten or twenty years from now, and I try to think about which choice I would regret the least. Over the years I’ve realized that few decisions lead to absolutely no regrets. If we’re lucky, as we look back, our regrets are ones we can live with. I’m okay with that—taking the path of least regret.
Ultimately, though, the thing that allows me to run with whichever decision I end up making is that, in all truth, that decision doesn’t matter. A year from now, if I am unhappy, or things don’t turn out as I had hoped, there will be another choice to be made, and I can take a different path. An endless line of choices lead to an infinite set of possibilities, and if none of them turns out great, in a hundred years it won’t matter anyway. At least I won’t have settled for the path of least resistance. I will have knowingly stretched myself into the possibilities of greatest happiness.