Living with Hard Choices
Pennick Family Therapy - "a place for change"

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Living with Hard Choices

Recently, I watched an interview with Hillary Clinton, where she discussed her new book, “Hard Choices”.  I have not read the book; however, from what I understood from the interview, the book is about her process of making hard choices.  She has definitely had to make some hard choices in her life.  Whether you’re a fan of Hillary Clinton; or not, her life, does make for an interest case study.  I intend to read her book because; I do admire Hillary’s resilience.  I am a student of life and study people’s resilience.  That is one reason that I am so passionate about therapy.  I love to see people overcome and succeed.

Anyone who doubts Hillary’s polities or even those who disagree with her choices must realize, whether right or wrong; she has developed a strong reliance, and has had to live with her hard choices.  As I listened to her, I was reminded of a quote I read years ago by William Jennings Bryan, "Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved."

Much has been written about how to make decisions.  Often clients will report that they struggle with decision making, and feel they miss opportunities due to their procrastination.  When I heard the title of Hillary’s book was “Hard Choices”, my first though was about living with those hard choices.  In other words, you must “live with the consequences of our actions.”  That is something that we all needed to learn as children; but few of us did.   It is a hard lesson to learn.

The clients, who feel they procrastinate, worry about the consequences of their choices, and living with those.  I wish I had a dollar for every client who has said to me, “How do you know you are doing the right thing?  How do you know it the right choice?”  You may know the answer, and even find it odd that others do not realize that you never know for sure you are making the right choice.  So how do you make those hard choices?  What do you do after you have made a hard choice?

Frankly, making hard choices isn't the problem; it is living with it.  However, I will put it very simply, " You make the best decision you can, with the information you have at the time, and then you live with it.”  That is where the difficulty comes in.  When I said that to a client one day, he said, “When do I know that I have enough information?”  I asked the client if he was laying on a table in an emergency room and the attending physician was attempting to determine the cause of his breathing problem, how he preferred the physician proceed.  Would he want the physician to base his course of treatment on the information that he had or prefer that he research the condition; before he treats the breathing problem?  Of course, not all your choices are life and death, requiring you to make quick decisions. However, when we think about all the information available to us as we are trying to finalize our choices, it can become overwhelming. There is so much contradictive information.

Let’s consider the choice of what type of automobile to purchase.  You have cars you like, and possibly ones that you have heard are better preforming than others.  You do your research over the weekend, and in a conversation at work on Monday morning you mention you are buying a new car.  You immediately receive input from your colleagues about their horrible experiences with certain cars or possibly even stories about the one you have chosen from your recent case study.  You then pick up a magazine on your way home and see an article about another model of car that is promoted as the “safest car on the road today!”  You arrive home and your wife turns on the nightly news.  The first story is about a recall on the car you had just read the article about as being the “safest car on the road today!”  What do you do?  How do you make this hard choice and live with it?

The same scenario that I just described can be applied to real estate purchases, job opportunities, whether to work or stay home with your new baby, eat beef or not, and even whether to get married or stay single.  We can literally find supporting evidence for just about any choice and then find the opposing argument with more research.  So you asked yourself and your therapist, “How do I know that I am making the best choice?”

Trust me; most of your choices are hard choices.  For me, a hard choice is one that says, “no matter what happens I may be wrong.  However, I am willing and able to live with the consequences of my decision.”  Then you take a big gulp and move forward.  I know that sounds easier said, than done.  But I am being honest with you.

I have made some horrible choices.  I have lived with the consequences of those choices.  Fortunately, I learned to not beat myself up for those choices.  I do own them.  I do not blame others for my choices.  I do not say I had no other choice, because I always did.  There were always other choices.  You always have another choice.  You may not like the other choice, and you may feel that others won’t agree with that choice; however, there is always another choice.  The other choice may seem impossible, but it is your choice.

Let’s go back to the scenario of the physician making the choice of treatment when you are struggling with a breathing problem in the emergency room.  You agreed that you would want the physician to treat the breathing problem with urgency, and not research it further while you fought for air.  However, let’s say the physician thought there might be some underlying condition or an allergy that he needed to confirm.  He may have a choice that he be risky, but if he was correct would save your life.  Unfortunately, he is in a double blind, he is putting you at risk no matter which choice he makes.  It comes to his best judgment or gut feeling about your condition, based on his past experiences.  That is when you would want the doctor to determine whether the consequences were great enough that he risk being wrong to possibly save your life.  In this case, he would be making that decision on the best information that he had at that time.  These hard choices do take courage and confidence.  You are not always going to be right, however, as with this scenario; not doing anything is worse than acting and being wrong.

A very similar dilemma is when someone is diagnosis with cancer.  Often the “hard choice” is whether to have chemo therapy or not.  Often patients will decide to not have chemo because they wish to live what time they have left with a good quality of life.  However, the hard choice for them is even harder on the family.  They know that the chemo may cure the cancer or they would have more time with their family.  So they feel that are in a double bind, or damned if they do and damned if they don’t. 

When speaking with my clients about hard choices, also I also tell them they must make their own decisions...whether it is buying a new car, getting a divorce, having chemo therapy or what they want to eat for dinner.  Unfortunately, the reason many people present to therapy is because they are blaming others for their lives.  They have not voiced their choices and agreed with others in their life to try to keep the peace.  They have allowed others to be responsible for their lives.  Yes, I said, “responsible”.  If you are someone who hates to make the “hard choices” or make any decisions because then “you don’t want to make anyone unhappy.”  You are not taking responsibility for your own life and you are unhappy because you don’t have the life you want?  Realizing that you have been the peace maker in your life is difficult.  However, it is important to come to that realization.  It isn’t fair to others because you are not contributing to the solution.  You are part of the problem.  Clients say, “I don’t want to argue about it,” or “I want him/her to be happy.”  Of course, this also comes back to the fear of making a bad choice.  We all have to eventually learn that we have to make some hard choices and some will not be good choices.

As I stated, I have made more than my share of poor choices, and as I mentioned I do not beat myself up for them.  Sadly, for many years, I did beat myself up for those decisions and I was scared of repeating the past.  Even more harmful, I did not own my choices.  I blamed others for my life decisions, my childhood and my problems.  Fortunately, I realized that those choices and life experiences taught me I could live with the hard choices, learn from them and grow.  I did not let those bad choices define me or control my future.  I also realized I have made some very good choices.  I am extremely proud of most of the choices that I have made.  I also realized that if it wasn’t for those bad choices, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  Furthermore, I have learned, that the more I know and the more I realize that I can survive, thrive and live with my hard choices, the better my life becomes.  I learned a great deal more from my mistakes, than I did my successes.

Finally, I believe most people do the best they can with the information they have.  When you know better, you do better.  If you have made poor choices, own them, live with the hard choices, and accept responsibility for your own life.  For me, that is the best moment in therapy, when a client realizes that they have the power to determine how they spend the rest of their life.  They stop making excuses, placing blame and live with their own choices, good and bad.  As William Jennings Bryan basically stated, “Your destiny is your choice.  You are the only one who determines how you will live with your hard choices.”



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