Of Options and Choices

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It seems to me that whenever L and I get together, we have fairly deep conversations on life, and by deep I mean it kind of feels like therapy, we sit there and we discuss perspectives, perceptions, and she always pushes me to ask why, and everytime it's over, I feel like I know a little more about myself, and I understand how to better live life. Intense, I know.

Last week, we talked about options and choices, and she passed on the best piece of advice she had received (dispensed without the usual gravity and burden of action that normally accompanies the advice) 

Don't let your options dictate your choices

Let me tell you something, when I heard those words I had to stop and think, really really hard, for a very very long time. It was quite the pregnant pause. Not because I didn't understand what the words meant, but because I needed time to think about how they applied to every decision I'd made - at least in recent times. Let me say, and I'm not proud of this, but every single outcome of mine was first defined by my options.

Not exactly awe-inspiring huh.

The thing about options is that ultimately, an option is a pre-defined bucket of future action. Dictionary.com defines it as "something that may be or is chosen." In finance, it is the right to buy a fixed quantity of a commodity, security, foreign exchange, etc, at a fixed price at a specified date in the future.

An option is essentially something that is pre-determined (by someone or something or just plain circumstance), and it will likely dictate the course of your life should you opt to go down that path. 

What is choice then? Choice is the the right, power, or opportunity to choose. Choose from what then? The whole universe of what's out there, the obscure, the unimaginable, things we have yet to dream up, things we have yet to create. We don't have to choose from the options in front of us, we have the choice to make our way and not be constrained to what is most apparent and obvious.

Let me tell you a story, there was once a woman who was married to a man, and they had three little children. They did not have very much. The man was bad and abused his wife, and later abused his children. What were her options? She had none, they would say, she had no money, and no where to go, she had to stay.

She said no.

She packed up and she left and she took the three little children. She made a place where they could go. She had no money, so they said she should stay home and take care of the three children, work a job that lets you have that flexibility, you can't afford to have someone else care for them for you. But if I don't work, how will I make things better? So she worked and earned, and paid for rent and paid for a maid and did not save because there was nothing left to save at the end of the day. But the three children, they could go to school, they could build a better future, they could define their own tomorrow independent of the circumstance from which they were raised, and the options that were obvious to them. 

All the children grew up, they were talented, intelligent and passionate, conscientious, caring and kind. One of the three faced a conundrum in her late teens, take the multitude of government scholarships to prestigious universities overseas and the job that was guaranteed upon graduation? Or take the road less traveled and follow her true passions at a hardly known US liberal arts college? They all said take the scholarship of course. A free ride to the top of the pops to be among the cream of the crop. No she said. Why ever not they said.

Because I can choose my own path

A path that was not clear, one without a job offer waiting at the end of it, but one that she knew would make her happiest, and one she could never rightfully regret because it was her own choice to begin with. Today she's happy - in her young life, she's been a writer, a lecturer, and an actress, among many other things, and now works at one of the best, most cutting edge, and renowned consultancies in the world. One that ivy-leagued young ladies and men try their very darndest to get into. Many without success. When asked about her happy state, she said, "my mother taught me to never let my options dictate my choices"

Someone is going to tell me I'm playing with semantics here, but if you need more illustrious success stories, then ponder this: we would have no microsoft or facebook if Gates and Zuckerberg had stuck with their option (Harvard) - one which just about everyone in the world would consider the top option out there. If Larry Page and Sergey Brin had decided to go work for tech companies instead of starting their own, we would have no google. 

Doesn't the world feel so much wider without the blinders that bind us to the usual (A), (B), or (C). That's not to say there's anything wrong with sticking with the alphabet, it's perfectly fine if you're perfectly happy in between one of those brackets - but if you aren't, it might be time to look beyond them for your opportunity.