Monday, April 9, 2007

Choice . . . and Consequence

Recently I was invited to give an informal talk at my undergraduate alma mater for seniors facing their first “real-world” (whatever that means!) experience. We met in the living room of Mary Ellen Chase House over tea.

My chat was called, “Yes, there IS life after Smith.” I thought the title was humorous. It turned out not to be. There was a genuine, heartfelt question about whether there really is life after college, and can I, do I have what it takes, to handle it, make it, function, in the real world?

What I thought I was going to talk about flew out the mental window. I found I went to a much more fundamental place in myself to address the fundamental place where these seniors were residing.

I ended up talking about choosing. Plainly, simply making a choice. I could feel the room hold its collective breath when I mentioned choosing. Why? Because right with the introduction of the concept of choosing came the towering fear of making the “wrong” choice. I mean, instantly, do-not-pass-go, immediately, at once. If I had to write it as an equation it would look like this:

Choosing = Fear of Making the Wrong Choice

The two were identical. How did this come to be? How could it be that a roomful of very bright, well-educated young women were paralyzed by the need to make a choice—any choice—at all?

It seemed patently clear to me that no one had told these promising young people that there is a simple secret to choosing which takes much of the fear out of it. It has three aspects.

First, there is no such thing as a wrong choice.

I mean it—quite literally. There IS no such thing as a wrong choice. There are only choices which yield results.

Second, choices simply have consequences.

Consequences. No more, no less. If you have peanut butter and jelly for lunch, you’re not having turkey. That’s all. If you’re seeing The Sound of Music, you’re not seeing a Star Wars movie at the same time.

Third, if you don’t like the consequences, you get to choose again.

Maybe you don’t get to have lunch all over again, but you could have turkey tomorrow if the PBJ didn’t satisfy today. Or you could rent a Star Wars movie tonight after a matinée with the Von Trapps.

I’m being slightly facetious by using less-than-what-seems-dire examples, but try out my theory with a choice about a job. There was a marvelous young woman in the room who had majored in Economics. She has applied for a one-year position with Teach for America. What’s the worst thing that could happen? She gets the job, and she realizes part way into it that she really doesn’t want to do a job like this. Great! More information about herself for herself. She gets to choose again when the position is up.

This is true for all of us. We get to choose again if we don’t like the consequences of our choices.

Did you know that commercial airline pilots are off-course 85% of the time? This means that they’re on-course 15% of the time. Only 15%! The rest of the time they’re, if you will, re-choosing, also known as . . . steering. Now airline pilots have measurable coordinates by which on- and off-coursed-ness is measured. Most of our choices aren’t measured in this way.

So what can we use as coordinates if Air Traffic Control doesn’t supply them? What we ALL have (pilots or not) is an Inner Air Traffic Controller called the Divine Spark. That Spark grows into a flame when we make choices which are in our best interests. The Spark diminishes into an ember when we make less than ideal choices.

Once again, dear one, help wanted? As always, inquire within.

It was a pleasure to speak to these young women, women who will step forward in their own ways and make significant contributions to the greater health and well-being of our world. I was glad to be able to tell them about choices—and consequences—and the universal ability to choose again.

This dozen young women got it, they heard me, and they let out that collective breath and let go a little of their fear. On the drive home, I thought to myself, Wow, these young women gave me a huge wallop of hope for the future of our planet. Ain’t that grand?

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