Hard Choices

Variety is the spice of life, apparently. But sometimes in a day or over a couple of weeks I will have a spate of clients with seemingly similar issues. In January, numerous clients came in with neck and back spasms, and then in late February / early March thanks to a nasty cold doing the rounds I had several clients cancel their appointments - which is why it’s always worth letting me know if you want to be on my waiting list!

In the past few weeks, I have had many people talk to be about difficult decisions they are facing. Friends, family, clients and colleagues alike are finding that this spring some element in their life is not as they would like or hope. And they are now inspired to do something about it.

Therapy

I’ve written before about my experience of the Therapy in Massage Therapy. I feel very blessed that Bristol Massage Therapy creates a safe space for clients to come and voice the stress and anxiety they are experiencing. Most often, just being heard is enough to help enable someone to find enough peace in their mind to allow the magic of massage mind to take over. At other times, clients might feel they want to continue conversing about their situation throughout the appointment. Either way, I am really happy when clients leave looking refreshed, revived and relieved.

Clients who talk are not receiving counselling or therapy from Bristol Massage Therapy. If I feel that more talking therapy is appropriate, I do know and trust some very talented and experienced counsellors, therapists and psychotherapists, so please do ask if you are seeking a potential contact or recommendation. But clients are able to come to a massage appointment and be heard, attended to, and held in a safe place. Occasionally I might ask to share something from my own past, or consider mentioning a book they might find helpful, or want to borrow from my Lending Library.

Or share a TED Talk I’ve found interesting and think they might find insightful. Such as Ruth Chang’s talk on How to Make Hard Choices:

Don’t sweat the small stuff

We are bombarded by choice on a daily basis. Should I have the omelette or salad for lunch? Which bar should we meet in for a drink? Should I buy a new, more economical car or keep my lovely old banger? In some cases it’s a financial decision - this brand of toothpaste is 50% cheaper, and lets face it isn’t highly unlikely to be that different in taste or experience, is it (let’s not get into the ingredients debate)? But have you ever taken ages to choose from a wonderful sounding menu, only to be disappointed in your choice? That’s the worst, right? Because all you can imagine is what your meal could (should?!) have been like if you’d made a ‘better choice’.

Ever heard of choice paralysis? Barry Schwartz in his TED Talk The paradox of choice recounts the tale of an employers pension fund that offered so many choice options that more and more people were not making a decision as to which fund to invest their pension into, and thereby missing out on up to $5,000 per annum that the employer would have contributed to the scheme. I thought that this sounded nuts, and then realised that in my corporate days I did exactly the same thing myself. So by being stuck in ‘choice paralysis’ and not making a decision, I did make a decision. The wrong one. Because I became passive.

Make a decision

One of my clients recently told me that they knew they had to make an active choice, because to not choose was a choice of sorts. This resonated with me, and was what reminded me of Ruth’s TED Talk. In it, she says

“people who don't exercise their normative powers in hard choices are drifters … Drifters allow the world to write the story of their lives …it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are. And that's why hard choices are not a curse but a godsend.”

Drifting and avoiding making pension decisions in my 20s was daft. But the thought of drifting through life? Absolving myself of responsibility for my life? No. No way. Stop the bus, I’m taking back control.

Who am I to be?

This is a question that Ruth poses as being at the very heart of making a hard choice, and one that I have had several occasions to ask so far in my life (and yes, I am discounting the pension decision!).

I remember the night before my mother dropped me at University. As we sat in the restaurant of our hotel, we talked and laughed about various nicknames I might want to use. I’d had one through school, and I felt it was time to move away from that identity and develop a new one. She said “you have the chance to be who you want to be now”.

Fast forward just over a decade and it was time for me to make more incredibly hard decisions. I will be eternally grateful to my parents for their love and support, particularly at this time as I moved back in with them the day before my 30th birthday. I realised that I didn’t know what made me happy, what I was passionate about, so I decided to go and find out. Who was I? What did I want to be? I joined several organisations and clubs, started to realise what I enjoyed, what I loved and the type of people I really thrived being around. I had started to discover the 'real' me, my authentic self if you will, and what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be. This process led me to my life now.

We are all authors

We know that I enjoy writing, but I am not and doubt I ever will be an author. However, in some respects we are all authors, as Ruth points out:

“When we create reasons for ourselves to become this kind of person rather than that, we wholeheartedly become the people that we are. You might say that we become the authors of our own lives.”

The vast amount of choice with which we are faced every day can lull us into the false belief that there is a right and wrong decision when it comes to a hard choice. The very nature of a hard choice is that the options are ‘on a par’, as Ruth says. The big choices I made when I was turning 30 were the hardest to date. Agonising, sleep depriving, tear filled and heart wrenching. But even in my deepest darkest hour, I knew that I had done everything I could to make the ‘right choice’ which wasn’t something I could rationalise, compare and contrast. It turned out to be a leap of faith.

I was lucky, I had that conviction. I had that lightbulb moment. Actually it was more like a heart sinking through my boots kind of dawning realisation that then took several months to confirm in my head. But I also don’t regret a thing. I don’t regret the decisions that got me to that point of utter despair, because I learnt so much about myself and about what is important to me. How can I regret the choices I have made, be they passive drifter choices, or active author choices, when I love the life I live?

Inspiration

I have a poster on my bedroom wall that reads “Live the Life you Love” and one at work my mother bought be when I opened at 77a Queen’s Road that says “Do what you love”. I have a passion for massage and am determined to keep following my dreams. When I wake up and see that sign and am disappointed with some element in my life for too many days in a row, I set about making changes. This involves choices and decisions, little and large, but life is too short to settle, to drift, to be a passenger in the journey that is my own life.

Whatever your inspiration, whatever the choices you face I wish you well and ask you to trust yourself.