Sometimes our minds are too “tight” around issues to think our way out of difficult decisions. We can spend hours, days, weeks, or even decades, weighing the pros and cons. But, sometimes logic isn’t the best route to take when changing course could have major ramifications for you and the people close to you.
For example, recently I was out at a brewery/bar with my landlord. I really like him… in a protective auntie way. He’s about a decade younger than me, smart as a whip, extremely successful, quite handsome, funny, and has a beautiful girlfriend. The latter is the problem. She’s completely dependent on him. And, “When she doesn’t get what she wants, she throws a tantrum like a four year old.” – His words, not mine.
That wasn’t the only problem. She is about 10 years younger than him and she wants to get married. He doesn’t. She wants children. He doesn’t. She wants the finer things in life. He still uses an iPhone 4… from 2010.
To me, the decision was obvious… they weren’t meant for each other. Even though I could practically see an expiration date, I didn’t say a word. Well, that’s not true. I did say something about stocking up on condoms; desperate women “accidentally” get pregnant all the time. My sister did it three times. But, I detract.
I asked him what he enjoyed about the relationship, besides sex-on-the-regular. His expression was a cocktail of confusion, doubt, and stage fright. I had a full glass of beer, and I know the value of silence, so I waited. And waited. But, there comes a moment when silence feels cruel. Like… here I am, in no emotional turmoil, just drinking my beer as my friend spins out.
I said, “How about we look at this from a different angle… Why don’t you want to break up?” THAT he had an answer for.
“I can’t just kick her out on the street… or send her back to Malaysia, she has nothing. Her family might be disgraced, or reject her.”
I’ll admit it, my mind went straight to mail-order-bride. “She’s from Malaysia? How did you guys meet?”
“We met in the Netherlands, where I’m from.”
We walked to a little local Spanish restaurant. I asked more questions, he gave more answers, and I took a taxi home (alone, of course) at midnight.
But, the conversation lingered with me. I kept thinking… one of the most important things, for our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, is living our lives authentically. Our souls know what’s best for us, our brains (and fear of the unknown) just seem to get in the way. My landlord was so focused on responsibility and guilt, that he didn’t even factor his needs into the equation.
I kept thinking… he might benefit from knowing what HE wants, before deciding to stay-the-course, or take a new path. However, the idea of giving unsolicited advice felt invasive and controlling.
Besides, he never actually said that he was at a crossroads, he was just venting. My “job,” that evening was to ask open-ended questions, listen intently to the answers, and remind him to stock up on condoms. Mission accomplished.
However, the idea that there must be an easy way to make difficult decisions stuck with me. There was a solution niggling in the back of my mind; one that I’d used in the past, but couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was. So, I let my mind wander to the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make. Bigger than whether I should have children, leave my husband, or opt out of a group of my closest friends – some of whom I’d know since middle school – because I realized I didn’t want to become any of them.
Usually, decisions aren’t difficult for me, unless they affect my children. I had been a single mother to them from the time they were 1 and 4 years old. I was completely committed to making sure I was a great provider and a loving and accepting Mom, whose main goal was to help them evolve into the most authentic versions of themselves.
In order to create a stable and abundant life for them, I worked for the same company for 23 years. I was in commercial flooring sales, but I always liked to think of my role as a teacher. Educating my clients and steering them to the best solutions for their projects… even if those solutions weren’t mine.
This approach seemed to work, as I was in the top 5% of the 50+ person sales team, every year for 23 years. Which meant I made a LOT of money. Whatever number you’re thinking… it was MUCH more than that. I say this not to gloat, but to factor the mind-blowing income into the decision I was about to be faced with. So, yeah, the money was great.
But… I hated my job. Don’t get me wrong, most of my clients were fantastic people. It was the physical side of the job that I dreaded. In commercial flooring, manufacturers are constantly discontinuing products and introducing new ones.
You might think… That doesn’t sound too bad. So, let’s get into some details that might change your mind… Every new product folder is about the size of a dictionary. By the time I made my way through updating every client, I would have an average of five new product folders for each firm. So, I’d start the entire update cycle again.
My territory, at the time, was Minnesota and North Dakota. That meant I had hundreds of libraries to update – pulling discontinued items and adding news ones. But, you can’t just stick new products on a shelf and hope clients find them. You have to present them. That means scheduling meetings with hundreds of firms and countless individual clients.
The meetings might be as short as 15 minutes, or as long as a “lunch and learn,” which is technically only an hour, but you have to get (and bring in) the food and drinks, set up large samples (each about the size of a large bathroom rug), take questions or make small talk after the presentation, clean up the plates, repack all of the large samples, remove the discontinued products from the shelf, add the new ones and haul the large samples back to the car. Three hours total.
Did I mention that my territory was Minnesota and North Dakota… where it snows 6 months out of the year? Do you know where the plow trucks push the snow? Up to the curb. So, I literally had to climb over banks of snow that came up to my neck. Most of the time, I would throw waterproof sample bags over the snow banks, climb over them, and try to recompose myself when I slid onto the sidewalk.
For “lunch and learns,” in particular, the process was time consuming (several trips to and from the car), dangerous (heels and ices aren’t a great combo), and backbreaking. Not to mention… humiliating. Some people only came for the free lunch, others would be on their phone or falling asleep, and some people even came in, took a boxed lunch and left before the presentation began.
Let’s break it down quantitatively… If I was making a trip to North Dakota, where I would see 30 clients over five days, I would have to plan my time with each firm down to the minute. I had to pack my van with precision, 5 folders bundled for each client, would make the process efficient and effective. 30 clients x 5 folders each = 150 dictionary-sized folders in my van. I also had to make room for the large presentation samples, my luggage, and a cooler filled with necessities for the 4 hour drive.
So, I lost 4 hours on Monday and 4 hours on Friday because of drive time. If I left at 8:00am, I’d get there at noon. Perfect. I could eat lunch while clients are out doing the same thing. The earliest that clients wanted to meet was 2:00; after lunch they had to get caught up on emails and calls. So, I did that too… in my van.
Basically, that meant on Monday and Friday I could see clients at 2:00, 3:00 and 4:00. So, 3 clients on Monday, and 3 clients on Friday. That left 24 clients for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday = 8 to 9 clients those days.
And, that’s only 30 clients in North Dakota. There were hundreds more in Minnesota. It was a never ending cycle… for 23 years.
Fast forward to 2013. I was an empty nester and both of my kids were in college in Chicago. At a girlfriends impromptu request, I took a trip to Mexico and met the love of my life – an Englishman who stole my heart the second we locked eyes.
A year later, we were married and we had a decision to make…. live in Minnesota, which I hated (mostly the weather, and I missed living near the ocean), or move to England. I remembered something my therapist asked me once, “What would the rebellious teenager in you do?”
I’d been so responsible for so long. I’d devoted my life to my children – which I loved – and a job that I hated. I was living in a place that I cursed from the moment I arrived. (Good people, it was JUST the weather!)
On the flip side, I was earning a fortune, I had a great circle of close friends, my kids were only two states away, I was in a phenomenal writer’s group, and I was one of only three people accepted into a prestigious writing mentorship program. Not to mention, I was a newlywed, crazy in love with my husband, and we were living in Uptown… the coolest part of Minneapols.
On paper, I had it all. I would be a fool to throw it all away and move to a new country, right? I was torn. It made no logical sense to leave everything I’d built over the last 23 years, for the unknown. I wouldn’t have a job, a home, friends, family, access to classes that I loved, and (this was no small thing), the food was going to suck in England. Also, I’d have to sell, or give away, nearly everything I owned.
23 years of accumulating everything that I deemed important would become something I’d sell on Craig’s list or (audible gasp)… at a garage sale where people would haggle over the price of my colored glass collection. For what, a man?
But, it wasn’t about the man. In fact, he wanted to stay in Minnesota. It was about me. I had “served my time,” in a life that didn’t fit me. I wanted something new. I wanted to kick up my heels a bit. I could always come back, right?
But, what about my kids? Would they feel like I’d abandoned them? Although, should I stay in a job and a state that I hated, so that I could see them on holidays?
Suddenly, I remembered how I made that difficult decision. The kickass therapist I was seeing at the time, had a trick. She said, sometimes your mind isn’t your greatest ally when it comes to making decisions, but your body can be.
She encouraged me to make the options very clear: stay the course, or change my life entirely. She handed me two lamented cards, one was labeled Positive Reactions, and the other was Negative Reactions. Beneath “Positive Reactions” were words like: relieved, happy, excited, and energized. Under Negative Reactions were words like: disappointed, nauseous, depressed, or anxious.
Then, in a mind-bending statement she said, “I’m going to make the decision for you.”
She continued, “As soon as I tell you which decision I’ve made, I want you to immediately check in with your body. Then, I would like you to tell me which list of feelings or emotions you associate with the fate I have decided for you. Okay?”
She said, “I have decided that you have to stay in Minnesota and keep your current job, indefinitely.”
Honestly, my immediate thought was… Fuck you for the death sentence, Lady.
“Well…” she said, “Which card describes your immediate reaction?”
“Definitely, Negative Reactions.”
“And what was the first thought when I assigned your fate?”
“I don’t think you want to know.”
“I very much would like to know… if you’re willing to share.”
“I thought… Fuck you for the death sentence.“
She laughed and said, “Well, it sounds like you’ve made your decision.”
“But what about my kids? I’m afraid they’ll hate me.”
“They might… for a while. But, only because they love you so much. You should never feel emotionally blackmailed by guilt. Anyone that truly loves you would want you to be happy, even if that means they aren’t getting what they want.
Living a life you hate, ‘for the kids,’ makes as much sense as staying in a bad marriage ‘for the kids’. It doesn’t make sense to be miserable so they can be happy. It’s time for you to tune into your needs. Throw caution to the wind, and live a little.”
So, I did.
I sold, or gave away, about 3/4 of my stuff, and packed the rest of it up in a crate bound for England. My husband and I lived in a small room above the pub/B&B he ran with his brother. It was so small that we could only stand up on one side of the room. But, I met amazing people and loved every minute of it.
In an unforeseen plot twist, the UK deported me after six months (long story, but nothing nefarious). So, we did what every sane couple would do, bought a camper van and traveled all over Europe for about a year-and-a-half. It was, by far, the most interesting time of my life. We ended up settling in Southern Spain, which I LOVE.
Things didn’t work out with my husband, but meeting him was destiny. I always knew that our relationship had an expiration date. The end of ‘us,’ was inevitable, it was just a matter of time. And when that time came, I was lucky to get out alive. Still, I’d go through it all again to be where I am today… living alone in southern Spain. He changed my life forever, and I’ll always be grateful.
And the guilt? It’s always there like a dull headache, but “I follow the orders of the universe,” and the universe is telling me that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Who knows, maybe in the future I’ll go back to the states, but right now my body recoils at the thought.
I guess I’m happy… with a side order of guilt. That’s better than feeling resentment, anger and dread; had I chosen to stay.
So, how can you make a difficult decision without the help of a therapist? Toss a coin. Heads you “do it,” and tails “you don’t.” Then immediately check in with your body, mind, spirit. You will, for sure, know what you want to do. And who are you to ignore the direction of your soul?
No matter how difficult, terrifying, or irrational your final decision is, begin acting on it. This can be something small or dramatic. Your choice. But, once you decide, commit 100% to your decision and take daily action steps to honor it.
Trust me, there will be push back. Friends and family will step in to be the, “voice of reason.” F*ck ‘um. No human being is wiser than your soul. No one knows what’s best for you, better than you.
Better the beast you know than the unknown, for most people. In fact, fear of the unknown is THE most common fear among the entire human race. Even fear of falling, flying, dying, can all be tied back to fear of the unknown. What if I get hurt, go down in burning flames, don’t make it to the “other side?” Nearly all irrational fears are fiction. Negative fiction.
I mean, if you’re going to put your imagination to work, why not fill it with rainbows, puppies and unicorns? Or simply, a more authentic life.
I’ll wrap this up with something a friend said once… “I will play the starring role in my life. I might occasionally let someone else take center stage, but I won’t wait in the wings for long.”
If anyone – other than yourself – is trying to direct your life story, show them the door.
Then, sit in a quiet place and ask yourself… “Now darling… What is it that you really want to do?” And, without question, follow your own marching orders.