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May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears. [Nelson Mandela]

A thought for the week

What are you afraid of?

I'm not talking about spiders and moths, both of which do it for me… shiver-cringe at the mere thought… but what are your deep-seated un-examined fears that are driving the choices you make?

Or that stop you from following through on the choices you thought you'd made?

I have been hearing the following phrase a lot just recently: I haven't got a choice.

You know what? You have. You always have a choice.

More than that: you are always making a choice. You might think that you're putting off the decision, but you're not. Every time we defer a decision, what we are actually doing is choosing to live longer with the status quo. If that's the choice you're making, it's worth spending some time asking yourself "why?"

Are you trying to force yourself down a pathway that others think you should follow, but which you know is not right for you? In which case: accept that. Make the decision not to go down that road, but to choose your own.

I read recently about a young girl being pressured into attending university even though she didn't think it was right for her. It wasn't that she didn't want to study necessarily, just that she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life and felt that studying something at that point might shut down options, force her into a career path that others had chosen for her.

There are any number of responses to that and without knowing the individual concerned I wouldn't dream to give advice, but I think a useful piece of information that we could be giving all of the kids out there in the same position is that most of us didn't know what we wanted to do with our lives at that age either – and of those that did, a good fair few changed their minds later.

Going to university or not going to university will change your life, but not in the ways you think. It will expose you to LIFE in a big bold free oh-my-god-I'm-pretty-much-on-my-own-now kind of way. You'll have pressures you can't imagine. Work deadlines. A need to understand stuff so far beyond your comprehension to date that you'll struggle to find the way into it. You'll fall in love. You'll fall out of love. You'll make lasting friendships and passing ones. You will very probably have your first experience of personal poverty – bills that you can't meet, a choice over whether to eat or buy a book, staying in on a Saturday night because you can't afford to do otherwise, having the utilities cut off (temporarily).

And I can promise you that you will look back on these days as some of the best ones. Because the 'stuff' stuff of it will fade. What you will remember is the joy of being allowed to study, to learn, being exposed to people you would not otherwise have come across. You will wander through libraries bigger than you imagined and find books that have nothing to do with your course-work and read them anyway and learn other things. You will go to events and gigs just because your new mates are doing so or – on occasion – just to get out of the rain. Some of those gigs and lectures will inspire you, change your potential futures. Some of them will bore you some much you will be regaling people with 'just how boring' decades into the future.

Honestly? If you are being pressured into going to university when you really want to be doing something else. Don't go. Follow that other 'else' ~ follow your own pathway, your own hopes lie down that road.

But if you're resisting going because you're afraid it will narrow your options, afraid (in other words) that it will be the wrong choice, then be aware that you are making a fear-based choice. You are choosing not to go because of that fear. You will regret that for the rest of your life. You will always wonder: what if I had been braver?

It seems few people lie on their death-beds thinking: what if I'd been more fearful?

Realistically, lots of people may not have ended up on the death-beds they did, if they had been more fearful…but it's unlikely they regretted the choice. I doubt that there was ever an explorer who succumbed to icy wastes or sweating jungle fevers who in his last moments thought: wish I'd stayed home and become an auditor like dad wanted me to or anything remotely similar.

Anyone faced with the Uni/not-Uni dilemma would do well to heed Mandela's words and make their choices not based on the fear that they might end up on the wrong course but on their hopes – whatever they are – for the future. If like most of us at that young age they have no idea what they really hope for, and if they have the aptitude for Uni, then why not go.

Whatever you choose to study, study it with a broad, wide, open mind and you never know how it might come in useful. And if it doesn't, at the very least what you will have shown a future employer is that you can commit to a course of action and that you are intelligent enough to learn things.

"Go, learn things" as Agent Pride would say.

The very worst you can do is find out that this is what you don't want to do, in which case…guess what? You're allowed to stop. And go do something else.

This is the thing that gets me. Not just about the uni or not-uni decision, but about all of the decisions we make during our careers and our lives in general. Somewhere along the line, we absorb this false message that decisions are irrevocable.

Most of them aren't.

Most times, we are able to say "Sorry, guys, got that wrong. Let's stop and do different."

There will be consequences and costs. Of course there will, but mostly, they too can be handled. And sometimes, those costs are validated, by making the next right choice more easily adopted. What you lose on the swings, you do sometimes gain on the roundabouts.

So I ask you again: what are you afraid of?

We are all slightly scared of what is on the other irrevocable side of the decision. Afraid of getting it wrong.

That's not an unnatural place to be. After all every decision we make – from where to invest our to money to whether to cross the road or eat a particular brand of pasta sauce on a given day or catch a flight or stay at home – every small seemingly safe decision we make has the potential to blow up in our faces. The stock market can crash. Sauce manufacturers have been targeted by terrorists poisoning their food (or maybe someone we know has it in for us!), the plane might fall out of the sky and you might be on it, or you might have stayed home and it falls through your roof.

There is no safe way to live. We need to understand that.

All we can do is keep on making our decisions and hoping for the best.

Hope.

A four letter word.

Ever noticed how much power there is in four letter words.

There is an oracle card on my altar at the moment which reads: Hope is the conduit for miracles.

Looked at in that light, it is no wonder that Mandela believed that our decisions should reflect our hopes and not our fears. We cannot protect ourselves from all of the things that we fear, and the energy we use in trying to do so could better serve us by taking us step by step towards what we really hope to achieve, or support, or become, or see come to fruition in some other way.

HOPE.

Honing Our Preferred Eventuality

It is about sharpening the outcomes through our decisions. No single decision will bring about whatever it is we hope for. Honing, sharpening, doesn't work like that. It works by stripping off infinitesimally small layers, one at a time, discarding what doesn't work, until we're left with what does.

We may not even know what our preferred eventuality (our intended outcome) is, until we've figured out what it isn't. I totally support Covey's theory of starting with the end in mind…it's just that the 'end' itself may need honing, during the process. Don't be afraid to change your mind.

In fact: don't be afraid, at all.

Be hopeful.

And decide accordingly.

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