Thursday, May 12, 2011

How I Make Decisions

According to popular psychology, our goal as human beings is to seek pleasure and avoid pain, an adequate summation to how my mind makes choices on everyday autopilot, a very pragmatic cost/benefit approach to life. How much time and effort is this going to take and what would I really get out of it? What goal does choice A work towards and do I really care in the end? But sometimes this makes you stagnant in deciding. Sometimes you spend so much time looking both ways that you never cross the street. And sometimes it can make life downright dull.

There is an old Arab proverb that says: “Throw your heart out in front of you and run ahead to catch it,” a dare to journey into the unknown and be lead only by the indefinable force called “passion”. For the last decade of my life, I lived according to the belief that you don’t really live unless you live passionately. After all, Hegel once said, “Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion,” and aren’t accomplishments how one’s life is measured? But then again Ben Franklin also once said, “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reigns.” Wait. Now I’m confused.

I feel like the choices in my life have been driven by an amalgamation of inspirational quotes that I’ve found in sparse places of popular media. You absorb yourself in Hollywood movies, some cheesy, some not, all of them about fate, about how small choices can dictate how diametrically different our lives could have turned out if we had went left instead of right.

Choices. I wonder if the concept of choice is an illusion or if it actually exists. There are many theories out there concerning the existential debate between choice and fate. Do we have a say in the outcomes of our lives or are we all destined to head down a predetermined path? Me? I like to take the middle ground of indecisiveness. I say that fate presents us the doors of opportunity, but ultimately it is our choice on whether or not we walk through them.

But then there’s the whole issue of the varying amount of choice available to different people in different situations. My friend Scott put it best when he said, “You don’t choose which crib you’re born into,” when describing the unpredictable amount of opportunity a youngster may or may not have depending on how life turned out for the generation before them. So how is that fair? How can we possibly believe that the circumstance of the individual is based on personal merit if we aren’t starting from a level playing field? But I digress. I guess the most pressing concern to a person is how one chooses relative to his or her own reality.

If there’s anything I’ve decided in life, it’s that passion is something worth having. Passion is something worth fighting for. Now the hard part is finding out what you’re passionate about. I mean truly passionate. How does one discern when you are pursuing something from a place of passion rather than a place of ego?

For the longest time I’ve wanted to do everything in the world. I wanted to be a lawyer, a writer, a professor, a musician, a small business entrepreneur, but most of those goals stemmed from either a place of insecurity or a need for validation; it came from either an inability to trust others in handling certain matters or a desire to be looked upon as a modern day renaissance man. Soon the more practical list became composed of things that I would be willing to give up rather than things I wanted to accomplish. But then again, understanding your life purpose is just as much of knowing what you don’t want, as it is knowing what you do.

The only things I’ve determined in my life are the ones that have inexplicably appeared throughout it, like the arbitrary Jazz vendor on the beachside of Peru insisting I go to the boxing gyms of Brazil, or the random woman in front of me at the North Seattle Community College bookstore slapping a continuing education brochure into my hands and me stumbling onto the page about writing courses. I figure anything willing to force itself so loud and clear into your life is worth looking into. But even with these signs, there is still a level of uncertainty, a degree of fear in making the wrong choice. I think the worst feeling to have is to feel that you should have lived your life a different way.

But I look it at like this. There are two kinds of fear: “fears that keep you from dying and fears that keep you from living.” My life has been an ongoing lesson on how to discern the two between each other. Anytime I felt I wanted to do something and the only reason I held myself back is because a fear of failure or a fear of embarrassment, I’ve done my best to push through because rarely do we regret those actions in retrospect, so I’d like to think I’m trying to wake from the autopilot like syndrome of just trying to get away with living. My friend tells me that when we’re older we’ll thank ourselves for taking chances when we young regardless of how much initial pain it caused. And isn’t the etymological root of passion, “to suffer”?

I suppose confusion is all part of the process, and stumbling is bound to happen. I try hanging onto the words of those that appear wiser than me; maybe they can offer tidbits of advice of how to avoid the pitfalls of regret. I ask them how I can live a life without mistakes to which they simply laugh and say, “Mistakes are inevitable. They are our best teachers. Mistakes give us the chance to be foolish, and the ability to be foolish is what makes life worthwhile.”

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