When I think back over my life, I’ve found that time and time again, the hard choices I’ve made were the ones that provided lasting positive change in my life. When I took the easy road, it didn’t have any impact – it was only the hard choices that really brought about change.
When I was young, I made the hard choice to reject the culture of most of the adult males in my life and instead devote my time to reading and self-education. That resulted in the opportunity to go to college, educate myself, and chase dreams that would have been far out of my reach otherwise.
When I was in college, I made a difficult decision to walk away from my entire social circle – people who were bending me down with negativity. Without that choice, I would have never cultivated the relationship with the wonderful woman who would become my wife.
When I was near my financial meltdown, I made the hard choice to reject a heavily consumerist lifestyle and start saving money. That resulted in me getting rid of debts, finding some financial freedom, and being able to sleep at night.
When my writing career began to launch, I made the hard choice to quit my real job and let that rocket lead me wherever it might go as well as free me to spend a lot more time with my family. This has given me a level of day to day freedom as an adult that I could have scarcely imagined a few years ago.
Recently, I made another very hard choice – one that I’ll talk about again in a few months once the ramifications of it start to become clear.
Every single one of these choices was hard. I didn’t want to make them – in fact, in each case, I avoided actually making the decision for far longer than I should have. In each case, though, once I finally made that hard choice and committed to sticking to it, my life made a big turn for the better.
On the other hand, when I look back at my life and think of the big choices where I made the easy choice, they didn’t turn out so well.
I made the easy choice when it came to my college major. Instead of seeking topics I was passionate about, I stayed in my early major choice for far too long – I found it interesting and sometimes exciting, but I never bothered to find my burning passion.
I made the easy choice (through most of my life) when it came to my spiritual beliefs. Early in life, I bobbed along to my parents’ mix of agnosticism and lapsed Catholicism. Later on, I followed people through various churches and religious groups. It took a lot of introspection to go beyond being a follower and figure out what I actually believed – and realizing what that meant in terms of organized religion.
I made the easy choice when it came to friends. For much of my life, I just settled for whatever people were convenient instead of trying to find people I genuinely connected with. The end result was only a few people I can genuinely call lifelong friends.
The easy choice is just that, easy. But you have to live with the consequences of it.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth
Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference
– Robert Frost, Road Less Traveled
Tactics for Making the Hard Choice
Here are some things that helped me make all of these hard choices in my life.
Imagine your future self if nothing changes. When I was a teenager, I often visualized my future if I didn’t make a concerted effort to focus on my education. I imagined a future where I stayed in my small town and worked at a factory job, probably coming home each night and drinking to excess, something I witnessed over and over again. It was a future I didn’t want – a future that really frightened me. I used that picture in my mind for motivation over and over again.
Imagine your future self if you do make the change in the best case. Before quitting, I imagined my life if my writing career took off like a rocket ship – and it was a good picture. The house in the country my wife and I had always dreamed of, the ability to usher my kids off to school each morning and be there for them when they get home, and lots of other little details. It made me feel genuinely happy inside.
Imagine your future self if you do make that choice in the worst case. In that same scenario, I imagined myself having to go back to a nine to five job in a couple of years. But, even then, I got to spend a lot of time with my children during their formative years and I have the good feeling that I got to chase my dream and I wouldn’t have to live with the regret of having not given it a shot.
Compare that worst case to not making the choice at all. Ask yourself genuinely if the worst case is really worse than not doing anything at all. If it’s not, then you should make the leap immediately. If it is, that’s the time to do some serious soul searching and evaluation, but don’t walk away from the choice – great reward does not come without some risk.
Use the “first thing in the morning” test. What are the first things you think about in the morning when you wake up? My first thought when I wake up is usually about my wife and children – often, my son is jumping around on the bed and my daughter is laying there yelling “DA DA DA DA!” (her favorite exclamation at the moment). Once I’ve wished them both a good morning, done a diaper check, and have some idea of their clothes for the day, my next thought usually revolves around writing. The same was true well before my career choice. In a nutshell, the first tasks you think about during the day that don’t fill you with dread are the tasks you should be focusing your life energy on – and if it requires making a difficult choice to get there, it’s a difficult choice you should be making.
Ask for help from your inner circle. The people around you can be incredibly helpful if you’re trying to make a difficult change in your life. Ask them for help and support when you make a challenging choice. My parents were extremely supportive with my educational choices. My wife was incredibly supportive and cooperative when I wanted us to make some financial changes and when I made a career change. The people around you are your support staff – let them support you when you need it.
Good luck in whatever you choose.