I’ve never been very good at making decisions. I envy my friends who are confident and decisive and who make a choice and own it, all the way to the end.
For me, that’s hard.
To be frank, even the smallest decisions are a challenge for me.
Recently I was speaking at a conference and one morning, before I headed to the event center, I decided I’d really like to get a cup of coffee. I knew there was a Starbucks within walking distance from my hotel, and the conference wasn’t far either, so I made the decision to stop on my way.
As I got in line at Starbucks, I checked my phone to make sure I was okay on time.
Five minutes passed. Then six minutes.
And as I looked at the length of the line still in front of me, I started to feel nervous I was going to be late.
So I stepped out of line, resigning to find coffee later.
This was the right decision, I told myself.
But when I arrived at the conference a few minutes later, I realized the doors hadn’t even opened yet, and general session wasn’t starting for another 15 minutes… at least. Why had I been so worried about time? I wondered to myself. I could have waited. In fact… I could probably still make it back to Starbucks and then back to the conference before things got started.
I stood there thinking about it for a few minutes before I decided—you guessed it—to walk back to Starbucks and get in line again.
And I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but as I stood in line at Starbucks for the second time, my mind started spinning. Did I really have time to wait? Was I just being selfish in my need for coffee? Did I really need to spend the money?
Should I have just stayed at the conference center?
Maybe I should get out of line again…?
Yes, I’m exhausting.
I forced myself to stay in line and get my coffee and—no big surprise here, but—I was on time to the conference and nothing terrible or dramatic happened.
But ever since then I’ve been thinking about this frustrating tendency I have to obsess over decisions and go back and forth and back and forth, looking for the “right” answer.
How am I supposed to make decisions like what house to buy, or where to invest my money or whether to stay in a relationship or leave it behind, if I can’t even make a choice about a stupid cup of coffee?
There is so much at play here.
The problem includes how little I trust my own intuition, how little permission I give myself to mistakes (perfectionism), how little faith I have in my ability to overcome problems and obstacles, etc.
But recently a friend said something to me that illuminated this problem for me in a whole new way. First of all, he suggested that perhaps trying so hard to do the “right thing” wasn’t serving me the way I thought it was.
Because the right thing for you, he mentioned, might not be the right thing for every person. And the “right thing” for the person next to you might not be the “right thing” for you.
We’re constantly trying to measure our own progress and choices by what everyone else around us is doing.
Second, he said, “compliance is a form of resistance.”
It took me a minute to understand what he was saying, but eventually I knew he was right. Compliance (rule-following, a constant obsession with finding the “right” answer) is a form of resistance.
So in other words, my own desperate need to find the “right” answer to the question, the “right” college, the “right” house, the “right” decision about something as dumb as coffee is actually my resistance to fully engaging with my life, to doing my own inner work, to owning my choices.
It is my protection against failure or disappointment, my attempt to disengage and skip the accountability I have for myself and for my life.
My desire for a formula or a step-by-step process or someone to give me the answers is my resistance against the transforming process that takes place when we find the answers in the context of relationship, but within ourselves.
That is me. Or, it was me.
There is value in asking for feedback or advice from others. There is value from learning from those who have gone before us. There is value in asking for support. There is even value in asking for boundaries or limits, or setting some of your own.
But I guess I’m starting to see what I’m missing by “following the rules,” just because they’re the rules, or by constantly seeking the “right” answer to every question, or by beating myself up for making what now seems like the “wrong” choice “back then” (“If only you had stayed in that Starbucks line the first time!”)
I’m missing the process of unfolding and learning and growing and becoming me.
And that’s not a trade I’m willing to make anymore.