I was hoping you’d say potatoes

One of the things couples undergo as a relationship develops is figuring out how to agree on what to eat together. For most young couples (and some older ones) there’s a budget to consider so choices are limited.

Here’s one of the early conversations I had as a newlywed regarding dinner.

Wife: “Which do you want, potatoes or stuffing?”

Me: “Stuffing!”

Wife: “We don’t have any stuffing.”

Me: (really puzzled) “Why’d you ask?”

Wife: “I was hoping you’d say potatoes.”

That was the first point in my life where I was conscious of the illusion of choice.

We have it drilled into our heads from youth that our choices are important. Parents and teachers initially make our choices, and our choices earn us their praise or disdain. Over time we are taught to be self-sufficient, to be self-starting, to seize the day, to choose our destiny, that there are always options. (See James T. Kirk: “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.”)

The power to choose for ourselves combined with a positive mindset help us to set goals, serve others, be creative and caring, and achieve great things. We “manage” our lives. We “run” our businesses. Paradoxically, as we learn to master our own choices, the illusion of choice arises for us because others are doing exactly the same thing.

On the journey of life, things are presented to us and we often don’t really have a choice, other than to accept and even be grateful for what we are given. It is what we do with these periods of life that shapes us.

When we have our hearts set on something, and things get difficult, it’s hard to let go. When we have something we really don’t want foisted on us, without our consent, it’s hard to face. Our initial response is to try harder, which often makes the situation worse. We can become disappointed, discouraged, even depressed as things don’t go the way we wanted. It’s because we see only the combined reality and illusion of what’s right around us, and not what’s in store for us down the road.

Our needs are most often met through the service – and the choices – of others. This is why we are asked to serve and help others. But somehow when it comes to ourselves, we think we’re in control. We think we know what we need, and sometimes the service we receive doesn’t match what we want. What others do often doesn’t have our best interest in mind, either. But the realization of what was best for us comes in hindsight years later, after choices are made, things happen, and the experience is summed up.

Our lives are not pre-ordained, with every little detail planned out. Even after the choices of others play out in our timeline, we still have our choices to make in moving forward, and that sets a new course. Plans fail. Purposes don’t. It’s up to us to realign ourselves, find gratitude and peace, and move forward to find and realize our purpose.

I tell people all the time that things will be alright, because in the end, they always are. Things always work out when the perspective is long enough to see the entire journey. It’s the middle that we have to endure. Choosing to be alright with potatoes for dinner, or something far bigger that won’t change no matter how much you want it to or try to make it different, is part of life.

I’m still learning this. If you are, too, I’d enjoy your thoughts.

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