I tell ya, I’ve been the queen of self-doubt. Seriously. Which has made decision making, well, something of a challenge . . .
For a good part of my life, I’d find myself somewhat paralyzed when faced with a major decision. Because you know, rarely is a choice about either this or that. Usually, five (maybe more!) paths line out before us, and which is the correct road to take?
Of course, sometimes a decision is about turning right or left. And even then, I’d vacillate. Because I pretty much always had a fear that I was damned if I did, and damned if I didn’t.
Worse, once a decision was made, I’d feel as though I made the wrong one. That I shoulda zigged when I zagged . . .
Yikes! That’s no way to live, is it?
Trust me, it wasn’t much fun.
And yep, I’d also delved deeply into the whys of this. And while this is helpful, here’s the rub: It doesn’t fix anything.
Just knowing why isn’t enough to change the behavior.
And to be completely honest, I’m not sure understanding the roots of it even matters, in the end.
Then it finally hit me: What matters is figuring out how to do things differently.
We see this a lot with the protagonists in books. When faced with the call to adventure, our character will give a laundry list of why he can’t do whatever. How he’s not the man for the job. How she’s just not up to the task.
Keeps said protagonist safe, no?
As I once thought it would do for me (even though I wasn’t always aware of that motivation).
But staying in the safe zone is about fear, at its core. And the characters in our books can’t stay there, or there would be no book!
I found that to be the same for my actual life—not deciding, which is a decision in and of itself, kept me from taking challenges and risks that were required to follow my dreams.
Hate when I realize those sorts of truths!
But love them too. Because they kick me in the butt to go on. Just as something or someone kicked that protagonist over the bridge from Act I to Act II, and the fictional story got going.
Deeper for me was the fear that I’d made the wrong choice. This was so pervasive, that little enjoyment was to be found in whatever I did decide, because I had this gnawing doubt that the other would have been better . . . .
Now, that’s a recipe for insanity if ever I could devise one!
So what was a girl to do?
Yep, I’ve had lots of therapy. Lol. And it can be helpful. But for me, the answers came through a deeper understanding via mythology, which is just the story of who we are, as humans. The public dream, so to speak.
Because myths come from the very essence of what it is to be human.
In so many stories I found myself—reluctant to take whatever plunge. And in those same stories I gleaned deeper insights into what it would mean if I did jump on for the ride.
It’s easy in hindsight to look back and go, well, I should have gone there instead of here; should have chosen that profession over this one; should have married the one I released back into the big wide sea.
But what if, just what if, life unfolded as it was supposed to? What if by making the choices in the past, it’s led to today, and to where I am and most importantly, who I am, and had other choices been made, well, what if I wouldn’t be me?
What if that’s true?
How inspired was I when stumbling upon Nietzsche’s Amor Fati—the love of your fate. In its essence, the term means that you look back on your life and say, this was worth living. And it’s still worth living. Over and again.
For me, anyway, this means that if you say no to anything in your life—past or present—you’ve just caused the whole thing to crumble.
So what if, just what if, you have done the right thing? You have made the right choices? Whether they look exactly right in this moment or not.
And what if, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing?
Doesn’t mean you can’t change it or make a different decision next time. But what if every stepping stone has led you to where you are now?
Would that make a difference in how you saw your life today? Would it make a difference about how you chose tomorrow?
It certainly has for me.
Now, I make a decision, stick to it, and be happy with what I’ve chosen. I go with it, follow it.
Most importantly, don’t beat myself up for it.
And it’s made all the difference.
What if, just what if, the philosopher was right:
“My formula for human greatness is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not in the future, not in the past, not for all eternity. Not only to endure what is necessary, still less to conceal it — all idealism is falseness in the face of necessity — , but to love it…”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.