I’d like to start by admitting two prominent and semi-controversial characteristics of who I am.
1: I trust my gut over anyone else’s, and I’m stubborn as hell when it comes to what my gut believes.
2: If I make a decision, I tend to stand by it relentlessly. The very notion of failure or an ‘incorrect’ choice makes my skin crawl.
For #1 on this list, I make no exaggeration when I say that it’s extremely challenging for the opinions of others, even if they are those of the masses, to persuade me against what I believe. And I’ve been the minority many times. You’re talking to a super-liberal city girl who grew up in a small town composed mostly of Republicans still sporting MAGA bumper stickers on their F150s. I’ve been the only Christian in a group of Atheists and the only pro-choice person in a group of Christians. I’ve been the good guy and the bad guy, many times, depending on the room. I know that. But, I’m comfortable believing differently than those around me, and I have never felt the need to conform.
Maybe you can relate? STUBBORN GALS, PUT YA HANDS UP.
I’m also sure it made me a difficult child to parent (sorry, mom), as I was always leaning on my own judgment over the likely better advice of my elders. I wanted every decision to be mine and mine alone, so I could stand by the consequences, positive or negative. So I go by my own judgment, over and over.
#2 has gotten me into even more trouble. Because my decisions come straight from that stubborn gut I mentioned earlier, I hate going back on them. The idea of abandoning a path I thoughtfully chose to commit to makes me so angry, angry enough that I, unfortunately, over-stay my welcome on paths I needed to abandon sooner. My loyalty to my own decisions has at times been a downfall.
I know this one you can likely recognize in your own lives, so let me cite a few examples:
You believe that a career path is perfect for you. You dream about it your whole life. You idealize about the places you’ll go and the feats you will accomplish in this role. It becomes a part of you. You work towards it, time and time again, only to find out that for one reason or another, it’s not going to work. Maybe it’s too difficult and you just can’t pass Organic Chemistry to save your life. Maybe you make it to the career and find out it’s nothing at all like you’d hoped. Maybe you get your dream job and you absolutely hate it. Maybe the market doesn’t fit the place you want to live, or people you want to live with. For whatever the reason is, you made a decision or a series of decisions, and it didn’t work out.
Here’s another one.
You fall in love. (aweeee) You believe this person is the one for you. They’re everything you’ve ever desired in a partner. They’re honest, kind, hardworking, loving and truly encompass all of the qualities you could see in a spouse. So you build your life around them. You choose them over and over. You construct your relationships with them, make your memories with them and map out a future together. You make some sacrifices but they are small prices to pay in the scheme of forever with the person you know you are meant to be with. So you trust them, invest everything in them and make all of your future decisions with them in mind. Then, things don’t work out. Maybe they show their true colors and you realize they’re not who you thought they were. Maybe they hurt you and you know the relationship is unhealthy. Maybe you just wake up one day and feel like you need something else. Again, you’re standing at the same crossroad, thinking you made the wrong choice, publicly and passionately.
Ok how about one more?
You always wanted to live in this one city. It’s been in the back of your mind since high school. You have told yourself for years that once you get to that city, you’ve made it. You believe it’s the one place in this world that you actually belong, and you couldn’t imagine ending up anywhere else. So you work like crazy to get there. You decide over and over that everything that you do must get you to this city. But when you do make it, it doesn’t measure up. It’s not everything you idealized it to be. You can’t understand how this could possibly have been the wrong decision. You never thought you would change your mind about living there, but you did.
Any of those sound familiar? Of course they do, because we all change our minds. The problem is sometimes we are for some reason afraid to act on it.
We want to quit a job, go back to school, move to a different city, leave a relationship or abandon a path we once thought was absolutely perfect for us. But we are scared that changing directions means failure or embarrassment. So much so that we let that keep us from happiness.
As I grew, I started to see this in myself and realized it was downright detrimental. My inability to abandon my past decisions was keeping me from choosing what I really wanted or needed in the present. It was also making it harder for me to accept a new direction that was actually better for me.
The truth is that life, and happiness, are not linear. Your ‘wrong decisions’ are meant to be abandoned because that act in itself leads you to the right place.
They’re also not wrong. They’re just what you wanted, and quite possibly needed, at the time.
It’s not a game of wrong vs right, (I repeat this in my head a lot when the bull-headed part of me wants to yell ‘Uhm, yes it is!’) because it’s really a journey of self-discovery.
You needed to explore those options to find out what you really wanted. You’re not abandoning a decision, you’re just making a new one, one that’s better for you now.
Ask yourself what is worse, deciding to change your mind about a path, or staying on a path that makes you miserable due to something as meaningless as pride? It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. It doesn’t matter if people think you chose the wrong college, city, job or partner. It doesn’t matter if it makes you look like you a “failure,” because a real loss is failing to prioritize your own happiness. A real loss is settling for mediocrity or displeasure out of an implied commitment to a choice.
The real people in your life will support you no matter what. They won’t judge you. They’ll move you into your new apartment, shake hands with your nervous new boyfriend and take you out for margaritas when you land your new job. They love YOU, not the circumstances you choose to be in. They want above all for you to be happy, not for you to magically have the inhuman foresight needed to make perfect life choices.
At the end of the day, you get one life. You get one chance to live, learn and grow into the person you want to be. You get one freaking chance to be happy, for yourself.
You’re going to mess up, get your heart broken and feel massively disappointed with the way certain decisions turn out. That’s OK. That’s normal. That’s needed. Real life is about making choices, experiencing the impact of those choices and making more choices based upon those experiences. It’s a domino effect of trying to figure out what makes you feel satisfied, loved and fulfilled.
So, DO YOU. Choose what you want to choose. Go where you want to go. Be who you want to be. And do not feel ashamed for it.
Shout a resounding good riddance to the paths that seemed like a good choice but didn’t work out. Because they were what you wanted at the time. You chose them, and you learned from them. OWN IT.
This is your life, and it’s not an exact science. It’s a process. You never have to stay true to a path, plan, person or place if it’s making you unhappy.
The only thing you have to stay true to in this world is your heart.
So listen to it, believe in it and let it lead you where you’re meant to go.