This, right here? This is it. You are alive. You are the one making your choices now. If your choice is to put everything on hold until the future, you can make that choice, but: It’s never going to be then; it’s always going to be now. When you do get to college, life will begin when you graduate. When you graduate, life will begin when you find work. When you find work, life will begin when you start paying off your student loans. Finish paying them off. Get that promotion. As long as you let yourself get tricked into thinking that life is somewhere else, some other time, you’re missing out.
Mostly, missing out on choices. You don’t know you’re making them. You take them for granted. “I had to.” “I couldn’t.” “I was forced to.” Those aren’t really true; they’re omitting crucial information. How often does it turn out that the missing qualifier is “or else people would think I was weird”? Pretty often. “Or else I’d lose money?” Constantly.
That’s not to say all these unconscious choices are wrong. You’re probably mostly making the same choices you would if you were doing it on purpose. Not always, though, and those last few exceptions are where the magic happens. So next time you think “I have to”, stop and qualify it. You have to or else what? “I have to break this law or else I’ll lose my job,” maybe? That happens. And the thing is, not everyone breaks that law. And not everyone loses that job. It’s a choice. It’s a sucky choice, but you will be a lot happier about whatever you pick if you know that you chose it; that you looked at those two alternatives, and picked the one you wanted.
And to do that, you have to be aware that you are making the choice. The question is, where do we put the emphasis? Answer: Everywhere.
Be aware that you are making the choice. Know this thing to be true. Think about it consciously. Think about what that choice means. It doesn’t mean “feel guilty”, it doesn’t mean “feel proud”, it just means be aware. Don’t be deluded into thinking you aren’t making a choice.
Be aware that you are making the choice. Know who it is that’s choosing. Don’t imagine that other people are making the choice. They may be putting pressure on you, but you are the one who ultimately decides how much pressure is enough to change your mind. It’s your call. The world’s history has plenty of examples of people whose response to an “or die” question was “okay, then, I guess I die.” They are not usually thought very poorly of. They made the choice; they didn’t let someone else make it.
Be aware that you are making the choice. You are not recognizing a decision previously made; even if there is such a decision, you can change your mind. People do that. You are making the choice, right now, as you make it. You’re the one saying “I would rather continue reading this blog post than do something else,” and it’s happening right now. Neat, huh?
Be aware that you are making the choice. There is more than one option. There pretty much always is. You may consider one or more of the options unacceptable. There may be options you haven’t thought of, or seen. But you are picking between alternatives. Even if what you pick is “sit around waiting for someone else to make it happen”, you are still choosing.
Think about what you’re doing. Do it on purpose. This is the real thing. This is not the trial run. This is not preparation for your real life. Your life has already started. You are making choices, all the time, which create most of the events you’re experiencing. If you are not happy, consider changing those choices. Don’t wait for things to change; change what you can. If you can’t change enough, start changing what you can change. If there are restrictions preventing you from changing some things, change others.
Again: This is it. We are not practicing. This is not a rehearsal. Here and now, you are alive.
(Special thanks to Terry Pratchett, whose use of this phrase in Small Gods has always resonated with me.)