Today, I am thinking about the idea of choices.
There are two different philosophies that choices can fall under. Calvinism, and many religions, believe that we have a set destiny, so no matter which choices we make, we will always come up with the same outcome. So, we are meant to have one soul mate, and no matter how many people that come before them, how many times we break up, how many issues there are, we will end up with that person because ‘it is meant to be’. Or, no matter how much we slack in college, no matter how hard we work, we will end up with the same job and the same career path no matter what.
Existentialism and modernism offers us the viewpoint that our choices will lead us down different paths. So, there is no prescribe destiny for us, but each choice leads us towards a different outcome. So, perhaps we do not have a set soul mate, but when we meet someone at the right place and right time in our lives, it fits and we end up together. We could meet the same person five years earlier and it would not have worked out due to the choices and place we were in our lives at the time. Or, the job we accept could be a conglomeration of choices we made–we decided to write this on our resume, shop for this outfit, research this amount of information, etc.
This happens with athletes and their rituals. On my dance team, before competition, we had an entire set of things we would go through. On my list of things to do was brush my teeth. I felt like, if I made the decision not to brush my teeth, it could hinder our chance at winning. The Calvinist might say that it does not matter if I brush my teeth or not because we would win the state championship no matter what. Or, if a girl fell out of her turns, we weren’t meant to win anyways so it didn’t matter what happened.
I have been considering this perplexity and am not sure which one I believe. On one hand, I can think of aspects of my life that definitely were led up to destiny, such as my job. On the other hand, I can think of many other aspects that the outcome was due to a choice that I made, such as friendships and places I decided to go.
Teaching high school, I have the interesting experience to go back and reflect on myself and my own behaviors. For one, I thought I was the most put together person ever. When I look back at my old diary entries, I know for sure I was probably a mess, all the time. High school is such a unique time–kids are testing their boundaries, discovering themselves, trying out different activities, tempting relationships. At just the ripe age of 14-18, do these kids have official destinies, or do the choices they make now influence their paths? If a freshmen fails my English class, was it meant to happen for some reason, or did the student make the choice to fail that will then result in consequences and an altered path?
I think in some way, it is comforting to use destiny as the guiding force in life; we give up our anxiety of the unknown by prescribing the thought that someone or something else is controlling the outcome anyways. So, when we break up with a significant other, we do not feel as bad about it because, “If it is meant to happen in the end, it will work out” (think about The Notebook). It is discomforting to think that “all of my choices have lead me to this point”, because you have to take personal accountability for it. My choice to purchase a cheap car ended up with an blown engine and in the end, I had to send more money on a new car anyways; the fact that destiny has nothing to do with my choice but that I myself am responsible can be disheartening.
I think the important thing to note is that we all have choices to make. We can choose a job with a lot of money, or we can choose a job that makes us happy. We can choose to dwell on an obstacle in our life, or we can choose to pick up and move on. We can choose to push our boundaries, or we can choose to stay safe. We can choose to get ourselves sucked into a whirlpool of negativity and closed minded-ness, or we can choose to look at the big picture and expose ourselves to diversity. We can choose to get involved in the drama, or we can choose to keep our mouths shut.
Choices are something I am constantly contemplating. How will changing my hair style alter my life? How will expressing my emotions make someone think differently of me? Because my ultimate goal is to keep myself as happy and as productive as possible, I often make the choice that is going to help me remain in control and out of conflict/emotional distress. This was something I had to learn as to give up as I student taught: that sometimes I cannot always be in control of everything that happens. I cannot control what a student will blurt out during my evaluation, I cannot control how a discussion will go, I cannot control whether my students study for a test or not. I think the same thing is true in relationships and friendships. I cannot control whether a person accepts an apology or not; I cannot control whether a person cares enough to call me or not; I cannot control whether someone buys me a birthday present or not. All that I can do is control myself.
Sometimes the most disappointing concept is that we cannot control other people’s decision. I cannot change how someone might decide to act, no matter how detrimental, idiotic, or ignorant it may seem, but ultimately, their choices are in their hands. We all have the potential to make all kinds of choices for ourselves and sometimes, it just depends on what path you take.