Thursday, July 25, 2019

It depends how you look at life

I was somewhat taken aback by a British survey claiming that four out of ten people were unhappy about life choices they'd made.

According to a survey of 2,000 British adults commissioned by UK charity consortium Remember A Charity, four out of ten people regret how they have lived their lives so far. Spending too much time at work and not traveling enough were among respondents’ biggest regrets.

Other common regrets among those surveyed included neglecting their health and not spending enough time with their family. Many wished they had been a better parent to their children. All of that regret seems to be a big motivator as well, with 40% of respondents claiming that they want to make some positive changes in the near future.

. . .

While the survey’s findings are a bit bleak at first consideration, many believe all hope is not lost; more than half of respondents say that they know it’s not too late for them to change paths and accomplish more in life. Inaction seems to be the biggest cause of regret, with three in four adults claiming that their regret is mainly caused by things they wanted to do but never got around to.

There's more at the link.

The first issue, IMHO, is that those aren't so much life choices as lifestyle choices.  None of them are the be-all and end-all of existence;  many deal with matters that are within our control, and can be changed at will.  Spending too much time at work?  Not traveling enough?  Those problems can be fixed by a simple act of will, a decision to change.  They're lifestyle issues.  To my mind, life issues are much larger and more important.  What career should I choose?  Should I marry - and if so, who should I marry?  Should I/we have children?  Should I/we divorce?  Should I/we emigrate to another country?  How will I/we deal with a sudden, unexpected diagnosis of cancer?  Those are life-changing issues that can alter our future, in ways often impossible to foresee and forecast . . . yet none of them are mentioned in the survey.

The second issue is that major decisions, life choices, aren't always under our control.  Often we're driven by circumstances around us, reacting to them rather than making fully voluntary decisions.
  • What if your country is defeated in a war, making it impossible for you to stay there in any degree of safety and/or comfort?  Your only hope for a halfway decent future may be to emigrate, by hook or by crook.
  • What if the economy tanks, depriving you of your job and the career you'd planned, and forcing you to take any work available, no matter how menial or undesirable, to keep food on your family's table?
  • What if a sudden health crisis deprives you of job, home and future prospects, leaving you destitute?
  • What if you live and work in an area, or a country, that has very limited opportunities?  You may want to be an aircraft engineer, but if you live in a farming community that has limited school subject choices, and no local and/or affordable access to a university offering that qualification, you're going to have to push yourself to extremes if you're to have any hope of fulfilling your desire.  It may not be feasible at all.

You may have to accept what jobs you can, and follow a career that doesn't appeal to you, simply because they're what's available to you in a given place at a given time, and there are no alternatives.  For example, ask those who, in Western society, until the second half of the 20th century, became pregnant outside wedlock.  They were given little choice except to get married, and for the man to support his wife by taking any job available for someone with his present qualifications - which might not have included high school graduation.  There were no ifs, ands or buts about it - that was simply the way it was.  How many career aspirations were nipped in the bud because of that?  How many potential doctors, or astronauts, or engineers, were lost to us because those individuals could never pursue their dreams?  We'll never know.  I know some of my readers who can speak about that subject from first-hand experience.

The third aspect is that, even if our major life choices turned out to be not very fulfilling, or not what we expected, we can still look for silver linings in the cloud.  We don't have to allow ourselves to get depressed at what's happened to us.  If you'll permit, I'll use myself as an example.  I expected to serve as a pastor for the rest of my life, until the debacle of the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal destroyed my trust in the human institution(s) of the Church, and caused me to walk away from what had, until then, been a firm lifetime commitment.  It cost me my pension and security in retirement, too.  I could complain about that all I like . . . but it wouldn't do any good.  As we say in Africa, I'd be farting against thunder.

On the other hand, I can look on the positive side.  I can be grateful that being a pastor opened the door for me to legally immigrate to the USA (on a religious worker visa, subsequently upgraded to a green card, and later full citizenship).  I can be grateful that being in this country spared me a great deal of hardship in my former country, which looks set to descend into chaos if current trends continue.  I can be grateful that being here has led to my making a whole new set of friends, and meeting the lady who later became my wife.  I have so much to be grateful for that it helps to make up for the mental and spiritual trauma (and it really was trauma) of having to make the decision, driven by conscience, to walk away from my vocation.

I'm sure I'm far from alone in having to face such life-changing circumstances.  Many of us have made career and life choices that have led to us being disappointed, traumatized, bereft, broke, whatever.  Equally, many of us have "rolled with the punches" and rebuilt our lives, often to greater happiness because we've learned from our mistakes.  Only fools keep on wallowing in the mire of past difficulties, refusing to get up out of the muck and try again.

It all boils down to whether or not you accept that it's all up to you.  No-one else is going to do it for you.  Life may knock you down, but it's your decision whether to stay down, or get up and try again - and again, and again, as often as necessary.  I think William Henley had the right of it in his poem "Invictus" (which he wrote during severe health issues that threatened his life for many years).

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Truth . . . and the very opposite of regrets about "poor life choices".  Sometimes we have no choice about the hand life has dealt us;  but that's no reason not to play it.  As Robert Heinlein said, through his most famous fictional character, Lazarus Long:  "Always cut the cards... and smile when you lose."  Who knows?  Sooner or later, you might win anyway - particularly if your opponent, for once, has worse cards than you!

Sorry if that all sounds a bit preachy;  but I was bothered by the "Oh, dearie me, look at me with pity, because I made bad choices" tone of the original article.  If that's the case, get over it and get on with it!



McChuck said...

Nice poem. I haven't seen it in years.
And a good reminder that one's fate is largely in one's own hands.

Andrew Smith said...

You may have had to walk away from your pension and security of retirement, but you have your uncompromising integrity. You also have the rest of us here, faithfully arriving for our daily feed. In a way you may well still be a pastor and with a far bigger audience. :-)

Jonna Hayden said...

THIS. OMG this. As my dear departed friend Mark would say, "Run towards the roaring." He would tell the story of how lions hunt--by positioning the older, slower lions on one side of the herd, and the fast on the other. The older would start roaring and charging, forcing the herd toward the silent (and deadly) young ones, and the inevitable conclusion. The roaring is the fear--which in our lives is manifested in uncertainty, unwillingness to confront the responsibility for the choices made in our lives that seem to trap us.

If you're unhappy, MAKE THE DAMNED CHOICE TO CHANGE. Stop running from the roaring, and move towards it. I did--it was terrifying, choosing to leave a 20 year marriage and a regular paycheck. But my life is SO much better than it's ever been. This life IS NOT A DRESS REHEARSAL. We get THIS, and there's no time to waste with regret.

Titanium Bear said...

Good points, Peter. I respect you.

Lazarus Long, in "Time Enough for Love." Oh, Hi Mom...