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Couldn’t Be Me: Why is life full of so many decisions?

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In this week’s advice column: How to make choices in a world so overwhelming.

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Welcome to Couldn’t Be Me, a weekly advice column where I solicit your personal dilemmas and help out as best as I can. Have something I can help you with? Find me @_Zeets.

We make choices every second of our lives, yet the concept of choosing is still so scary that I am sympathetic to the philosophy of determinism. What a relief to live in a world where free will doesn’t exist. Nothing would soothe the guilt of making the wrong decision more than to know that there was only one decision that you could have possibly made.

This week’s edition of Couldn’t Be Me is about that anxiety of choice. To choose to go back to school after dropping out the first time. Choosing between an improved material life in a better city or staying close to friends and family. Choosing between something you’re naturally good at or something you enjoy. And the consequences of making a bad choice, like drunkenly kissing someone who isn’t your significant other.

Knowing that a decision can shape one’s life can be overwhelming, but there’s power in the fact of agency — that you do get to decide what your life becomes, and that your world is what you make it. As Steinbeck wrote in The Moon is Down: “I have no choice of living or dying, you see, sir, but I do have a choice of how I do it.”


Jermaine:

Hi zito, I’m starting university over again and I’m proper scared and terrified. IDK how exactly I’m going to be able to manage the feeling of like, experience disparity and stuff with the people that will be in my year. I’m just really terrified of failing.

CBM:

I think that people usually go to university much too early in life. We’re often too immature and unprepared for such a pivotal adventure in our lives. It would be more beneficial to take a break to see and experience the world before jumping right in.

Your fear is understandable, but you’re not alone. More and more people are returning to school later in life. In fact, more than 40 percent of the university population are people older than 25.

Failing is probably the most common fear in the world, but you should remember that you’re not the only person going through the process of going back to school, and now you’re hopefully at a better stage in life to tackle the challenge than you were when you were younger. What you can do, as with most things in life, is give your best and not be afraid to ask for help when you sense yourself struggling.

There’s nothing wrong with being scared. Fear is natural when putting yourself out into the world. But you should have the courage to tackle this chapter in your life, because going back to school seems to mean a lot to you. Use the fear of failure as a motivator to do the necessary work, rather than let fear paralyze you. And know there is nothing abnormal about your experience, and that once you get into the groove of being in school again, you may find it much easier than the first time around.


Chris:

How would you handle being presented with an improved material life (huge salary bonus, cooler city) but leaving your hometown and your friends?

CBM:

I love songs about leaving one’s hometown. Those songs contain so much emotional pain, which is underlined by the fear of a new world and loneliness. But also, there’s a desire to try something new. To see the world outside what you’ve grown up with. Beyond the fear is freedom, possibilities of being someone who isn’t the person you’ve been all your life.

I know staying in your hometown is comfortable, and sometimes it is for the best that you stay close to the things and people that make you happy. It’s hard to replace those qualities that are essential to a happy life.

But for me, your option of a better material life is worth the risk, not just for the money itself, but also the adventure of a new, cooler place. When you move beyond your comfort zone, you don’t just discover more of the world, you discover more about yourself.

You already know who you are in one place. It seems like time for you to find out who you are elsewhere.


Ryan:

If you’re really really really good at something, but your skill to do this affects your other skills that you love more ... how do you go about something you’re naturally great at vs the labor of love. How can you choose?

CBM:

I can’t remember who the quote is from, or the exact quote even, but there’s a passage that said something along the lines of, “nothing is more of a waste of time than that which shouldn’t have been done in the first place.”

It doesn’t really matter how good you are at doing something if that’s not what you want to do. Of course, the situation gets complicated if the thing you’re doing is also helping you earn a living, and the thing you love to do is purely a passion. You need to work in order to live.

But if this is a clear choice between choosing something you’re good at or something that you actually love to do, then I would say to go with the thing you love to do. Aptitude comes from practice, and sooner or later, you will get better at the thing you love. That love will allow you to work at it without feeling as if the effort is a waste.


Danny:

My girlfriend just left me last night because I drunkenly kissed someone at the weekend. Genuinely would never do anything like this sober. Is there anything I can do to get back? I’ve already let her know I’m willing to do anything to work it out but am giving her space for a bit.

CBM:

In the words of Margaret Atwood: “But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.”

Unfortunately, when you hurt someone, whether or not intentionally, you are at the mercy of their forgiveness. It is their power to decide whether to grant it or to withhold it, and either decision is justified by the fact that they are the ones who have been hurt. They have the right to decide how to deal with that hurt. You don’t have a right to their forgiveness.

The most you can do, as you seem to have done, is to tell her that you made a terrible mistake, try to convince her that such a thing would never happen again, plead your case to be taken back, and correct whatever fault led you to make the mistake, regardless of whether forgiveness is granted. Forgiveness has to come with some form of redemption by you.

I hope that things work out for you. Situations like yours are terrible, and it is heartbreaking to know that you can lose someone you care about through a small act that is usually never worthwhile it in the end.