One of my Facebook friends posted this quote the other day. I’m sure she meant it as inspiration, but it struck me as a little holier than thou and judgmental. Seriously, we and we alone have sole control over EVERYTHING in our lives? Nothing is that simple.

While I agree that our choices greatly impact our lives, I question how much control we have over the place from which we make those choices.  For instance, can we really compare the choices of a person who grew up in a safe, stable, loving household to one who was the victim of chronic abuse?  I don’t think so.

So many things happen in life that are out of our control, that impact our psyches in ways we don’t understand, which in turn influence our choices, for better or worse. Our life experiences, from the moment we are born, our earliest role models, trauma, unconditional love, exposure to violence, exposure to art and culture, travel, isolation, quality and level of education, and so many other things impact our choices. Very often they do so unconsciously.

I’m hardly an expert in psychology, but I’ve lived long enough, and made enough bad choices – along with many good ones – to know that not EVERYTHING in my life is a reflection of them. Sometimes, stuff happens. Sometimes, other people make choices that impact our lives. Sometimes, we are faced with a choice we didn’t ask for and wish we didn’t have to make (I’m thinking of the recent American presidential election here). Sometimes, in good faith, we choose wrongly and don’t realize it until it’s too late.

As adults, we owe it to ourselves, when our lives aren’t going well, to engage in self-reflection (and maybe a little therapy) to get to the root of why, and our role in it. But when all else fails, and you’re left reeling from a bad choice, take heart from one of my new favorite quotes:



30 thoughts on “Seriously?

  1. While it is true that there are times when others can really impact the things around us and the choices that are made, we do have the opportunity to still make our lives the best it can be given the circumstances. It starts with our mind set…If it were up to me …how many times have you said that to yourself or even out loud to someone …when in fact it is up to you.
    I didn’t see the quote as being judgmental or holier than thou in fact just the opposite. We have more control on the decisions we do make like what job to work at , what opportunities can we pursue, what kind of relationship are we looking for when it comes to dating and what kind of persons do we allow in our lives. The last one is very important because you may not have control over who your parents are or who your siblings are but you do have a choice as to your friends and who you allow in your life. You can’t allow negative people in and expect a positive result. As for the election I think many people knew eyes open wide what they were getting into and choose to ignore the consequences of their choice because they felt it was time for a change for change sake not fully taking into account what was to come next.
    I think the quote was meant to inspire those who feel they don’t have a choice and just accept passively whatever rolls their way when in fact you do have the opportunity to blaze a path worthy of you!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I appreciate your perspective. You make a great point about mindsets. I work in higher education, and the buzz word lately is “mindsets”. The grants we recently wrote required us to outline how we were going to work with students to alter their mindsets from fixed to growth. So we did extensive research on this topic. Mindsets can be changed, if people are given the exposure to other ways of thinking and approaching life. It’s those people who aren’t quite there yet or who haven’t had the exposure that I was thinking about. I have empathy for them because I’ve been there myself. Also, I totally agree with you about the election. Thanks again. I truly appreciate you taking the time to read and comment!

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  2. William Gibson’s quote is my father’s favourite quote and it made me smile when I saw it. Now I can say that I truly understand why he loves it so much. Thank you for sharing your lovely thoughts and inspiring people! Keep up the great work! 🙂

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  3. Your Facebook friend’s quote is something of a New Age platitude, isn’t it, Kim? It has some significance, because we do have the perverse trait of consciously acting against our better instincts and interests, at times. But to go a little deeper, then we’re really talking about Free Will here, and that’s a tremendously complex subject, of course. Most apparent Free Willing is in fact a Post-Dictive Illusion, meaning it’s an explanation after the fact – a narrative the brain creates to give the sense of personal agency and autonomy. Benjamin Libet was the first – in the 1970s – to scientifically study the timing of short-term conscious decision making, and testing the assumed notion that we act consciously in our apparent choices; his experiments measuring the timing of neural correlates and disproving as much. But that’s somewhat different to the kind of decision-making referred to in the platitude, in which your own explanations as regards conditioning and so forth are far more appropriate. Love the William Gibson quote, Kim!

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    • This is fascinating, Hariod. Why would we consciously act against our better instincts and interests? I know I have done so myself, and I try to remember why, and I think it’s because deep down, somehow, I wanted the result, or at least part of it. That aside, I work with a lot of students who simply don’t believe in themselves for so many reasons, and this impacts their choices, often negatively. Then they use the choices (i.e. mistakes) as learning/growth experiences to make better choices. Part of my job is to help them process this and self-reflect. It’s a growth process. So to that end, the quote makes sense and seems true. At the same time, we who have not experienced true trauma and such cannot make judgments. What I mean is, my upbringing wasn’t the best, but I can say I was not traumatized. I have empathy for people who have been. And not everyone responds to trauma the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I suppose an extreme example of this acting against our own interests is the phenomenon of self-harming that’s so frighteningly occurring in many youths today — perhaps amongst some of your students, Kim? That’s very much a conscious and premeditated decision, and undoubtedly not in the subject’s best interests. And yet it’s very often done so as to feel — to feel something rather than nothing — and hence to validate and confirm the subject’s existence in a seemingly alienating world. And of course, the modern world is indeed alienating for late teenagers in particular, but also for those in their twenties, and some beyond that age who feel left out of society. We see also the pernicious use of drugs in respect to all this, too. No one takes heroin thinking it’s a good idea.

        The Benjamin Libet experiments on the timing of conscious decisions are worth reading about, but in essence they point to motor actions of the body being initiated prior to our conscious knowledge of the volition to do so – in fact, prior to the volition itself, which seems extraordinary. It’s all initiated unconsciously by preferred inclinations of the limbic system – in other words, by felt (pre)dispositions. The motor actions – the doing of something by the body – all initiate before the conscious mind appears to make the decision to do so. That apparent choosing is the Post Dictive Illusion I mentioned, the explanation after the event (which itself has already been initiated). We’re not so in control of our actions as we think we are!

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      • This is really fascinating stuff, Hariod. I will check it out soon. And sadly, you are correct that I have students who have admitted to cutting themselves. At the start of the fall 2016 semester, I walked three students to counseling center, one who was highly emotional and threatening suicide, another who had suicidal thoughts, and yet another who was depressed because her drug addict mother keeps flitting in and out of her life. Anyway, I said too much (best not to disclose too much about work, but I doubt too many people read the comments, anyway). Thanks again for directing me to Libet.

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  4. LOVE the last quote, Kim! And I totally agree with the rest of the post as well. I think our lives (and the success and failures that we have) are the result of luck, the actions of others and the choices we make. I don’t see how anyone can think that only one of those factors determines everything. I could have worked hard, sacrificed, and saved my whole life to buy my dream home, be happily living in it, when a tornado blows through town and flattens it to smithereens. Losing that home would not be the result of my choice, although there are certainly bad choices I can make which would cause me to lose my home. And like you said, even knowing which choices are good and which are bad can depend on the circumstances into which we were born.
    Honestly, I think that’s why it’s not smart to compare ourselves to other people: success (and failure) is a result of many different things, and there’s no point in feeling superior about our own success or jealous of other people’s success when our own life isn’t going so well. I think the key is to just keep following our dreams, and learning to enjoy the journey as much as possible.

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    • Thanks, Ann. It’s interesting that you use the example of a tornado. First, I was thinking of natural disasters and such when I wrote this, but left it out. I have to be perfectly honest: I wouldn’t live somewhere that tornadoes were a norm (or earthquakes or even hurricanes). One reason I love New England, aside from that I have lived here almost my whole life and so I am ingrained in the fabric, is that other than an occasional really bad snowstorm or rare hurricane, it’s pretty safe (Sandy Hook aside). I really appreciate the point you make about how just because we have made certain decisions (choices) about our lives, we shouldn’t feel superior to others who haven’t made better choices. That really is the root at what I was trying to get at here, that we simply can’t compare our choices or our points in self-reflection or self-awareness to others who might not be there yet. There are some really good people who make shitty decisions. I think it’s important to empathize with them, and help guide them, not judge them.

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  5. I think it is very easy to be smart afterwards and “point out” everything that is happening in our lives on the “choice” that we made or did not made. When in fact things are much more complex…. Sometimes when you are in a situation it is your “familiar” past that leads you to the choice you make, like you mentioned the environment that the person grew up in and so on. And you actually not really making a free choice…..I think the quote is about that we still have the power on our own life maybe not “everything”.

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    • Svet, you are so right. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. Our fixed reactions are so unconscious, at least I think, that we often don’t even realize why we are reacting as we are. But it is true that many of our choices set our paths in life, however we come to the decisions. So to that end, I agree with the quote.

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  6. So much is conflated here. I’m not sure a conversation about choices should include something about natural disasters. I don’t think anyone can control hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes. When I think about having and making choices, I tend to think of them as being an adult. Once we’re adults, we have the ability to self reflect and think about how we were raised, what the conditions were, and even where society was at the time that influenced the choices that we made automatically. Once you realize those things, it seems that you can now say, hmmm, perhaps I can choose differently, and then usually choosing differently will present a different path with different circumstances.

    In terms of the presidential election, I believe we still have choice in how we can live with the results. For example, I can advocate more through my own blog or profession; I can join the Women’s March on Jan. 21st. Like many of my friends, I can choose to ignore our new president. It’s hard for me to believe that we never have a choice. The choice might be limited, but it’s still there.

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    • Thanks for your comments, Kathy. Funny you say that about the natural disasters, because I had originally included them in the post, but took them out, hoping to be as objective as possible, despite clearly having an opinion. I cannot disagree with you about being an adult and reflecting and making conscious choices. This is correct and what we aspire to do. Working with 18-21 year olds mostly, and being privy to their personal life circumstances and reactions to it, I get a different perspective. I feel so much empathy for my young students. Which brings into question the second part of the quote, that if you want a different outcome make different choices. Sometimes, I’ve found (from both professional and personal experience), it takes a long time for people to get to that place. In the meantime, I hope we don’t judge them harshly as they progress on their journeys, which will for sure include mistakes. As for the election, I’m marching on Saturday locally, then I will ignore as long as I possibly can.:)

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      • Yes, it most definitely takes time and effort. I hope people don’t believe that you can just go make another choice, like magic. And you know I agree about the not judging part. Yay you in terms of marching! I hope you’ll share your experience, if you can. And lol about ignoring.

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    • Glad you liked the quote, Alan. My brother gave me a book entitled Assholes, A Theory, by Aaron James. (I hope he wasn’t trying to tell me something – since I had just conducted his marriage ceremony I don’t think it was personal). It didn’t have this quote in it, but it gave lots of advice on how to deal with them (and also to recognize if you are one yourself lol).

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  7. The Gibson quote is priceless. As for the one posted by your Facebook friend, I didn’t see it as judgmental so much as just a little limited. I think it’s like a lot of the stuff that turns up in Internet memes in that there might be something to the intended spirit of it, but if examined to closely, it quickly falls apart.

    I’d guess all your friend really meant by it is that we don’t have to be passive victims all the time. That’s fine as far as it goes and is probably a healthy message to put out there. On the other hand, as you correctly say, the quote clearly makes no sense if taken absolutely literally. There are a lot of things in our world that we really don’t have any control over at all.

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  8. There are some that believe that we are born into the bodies we have purposely, maybe through some reincarnation process to learn something that through other lifetimes we have not. Others may not agree with this…obviously, but if you do, then the abusive home in which you grew up in, was a choice of your past life, your reincarnated self–a spiritual self. You may feel this is a bunch of hogwash, but to many, they feel there are lessons to be learned from everything in life: the good and the bad. I know it sounds trite to say: everything happens for a reason, and it may not seem like we ‘choose’ the bad stuff in our lives, but sometimes I wonder. Do we draw it to us somehow? Do we make these ‘choices’ of cancer or illness or being put up for adoption? Are there deeper levels of ‘unconscious choice’ that we are unaware? I’m only pondering… Nothing is black and white for me these days and I wonder what we pull to us. Is it random…or not? BTW, I love the last quote…because ultimately, choice or not, it’s about the moment we are in and how we experience it, not what anyone else thinks. Great post.

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I appreciate your comments. I actually don’t think this is a bunch of hogwash. My mind is open to all kinds of possibilities. Life, and the universe, is such a great mystery and we are arrogant if we think we know it all. I actually participated in a past life regression session once. To this day I’m not sure if there was any truth to my visions or if they were made up in my mind, but it was an intriguing experience.

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    • That’s such s great poem, Sheryl. I love the mystery of it, that he never actually says if it turned out good or if he had regrets. I always assume it turned out good, but who knows?


      • I agree – You describe the mystery of the poem very well. I tend to think that he made a decision and then never really thought about where he would be if he’d taken the other road – he just knew where he was and that it was his life which was good. . . But who knows.

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