by Dr Sam (Wee Hong) Tan
“The Spirit of A Man Is Constructed Out of His Choices” – Irvin Yalom
James came to therapy seeking a way to move forward with his life. For the last 10 years, he has been struggling to hold down a job because of stress. Now, he feels a strong sense of ambivalence. On one hand, he feels the need to be employed as pressures mount for him to do so from family, from his partner. from the government and from society at large, and on the other hand, he feels a strong aversion to working, preferring the time flexibility and not having to be concerned about obligations. James was very stuck and he depressed for being this stuck.
In our discussion, James came to realize that like everyone else, he has to make choices in his life. Millions of choices in a lifetime – from the mundane issues like what to eat, to major life decisions. such as to migrate to another country or not. He also realized that any choice he makes comes with a mix of positive and negative consequences.
However, despite this realization, he still felt stuck and told me that he could not choose. that he was trapped between a rock and a hard place. The realization that shook him up roughly though came from a comment I made. I told him that not making a choice was still a choice – he has chosen not to chose and therefore maintain status quo of being stuck. I also told him that it was fine for him to choose not choosing (for that was his prerogative) as long as he is contented with this choice. And that he has mustered up his strength to face the consequences of this very choice, because the consequences will befall him regardless of how he feels about it.
As humans, we are faced with choices everyday, from the mundane to the big, life-impacting choices. And it is our responsibility to make those choices and face the consequences of those choices. This responsibility cannot be delegated to someone else unfortunately.
Given that life is about making hard choices, why not settle down and evaluate all our options critically and choose the life direction that would give us the greatest life satisfaction, greatest sense of connection to others and to something that transcends our individual self and which gives us a strong purpose in our lives? Why not map out potential consequences and set up plans to face them head on?