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We're E & C, a fun-loving couple caught up in the adventures of owning our first house and exploring all life has to offer. We like to whip out our tools and tackle house projects, travel to places close to our heart and far far away, document life's stories through pictures and writing, and dabble in the kitchen along the way. We're always on the quest for the next big adventure, for as Calvin says, it's "a day full of possibilities! It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy ... Let's go exploring!"

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Choices



You know you're over-commited in life when "quality time" spent with your husband consists of rescuing your car from a snowy street at 11pm. Oh, it was quite a date, as we hopped in his old Honda Civic and started our trek down the city streets to where my car decided it couldn't quite make it up a hill earlier in the evening. Really, it should be the other way around, with old Civic throwing in the towel when times get rough and Prius, our young chariot, coming to the rescue. But "old faithful" maneuvered that mashed potato terrain despite the hanging tail pipe that needs welding once again. He takes a little maintenance, but like any good relationship - or marriage - the engine will certainly outlive its frame.


We realize that most of our hectic can't-quite-catch-up lifestyle is brought on by choices we make. Like saying yes to teaching and working at the airport, orchestra rehearsals, freelance assignments, coaching opportunities, dinner with friends ... I'm sure this list sounds familiar. When you're a do-er and feel fortunate to have so many opportunities, it really is hard to ever say 'no.' We want our cake and we'll eat it too. Followed up by a fancy coffee, a long walk in the snow, a trip to the gym, and any other activity you can squeeze in because who can resist the icing on the cake? There are so many choices when it comes to spending your time, that if I pause to consider my options I feel that old decision-making paralysis creep in. I guess that's why I usually just go crazy attempting to do it all. (Not recommended, by the way.)



A friend recently recommended a book to me called The Paradox of Choice. If you have a few minutes, check out the author's TED Talk from a few years ago. Psychologist Barry Schwartz delves into the topic of choice, and how too much choice actually decreases satisfaction. He explains the "grass is greener" phenomenon, how to be happy with what you have, live in the moment, and not regret. I resonate with his statement that "imagination about other choices leads to regret, and regret detracts from satisfaction of the decisions you have made (even if good decisions). The more options there are, the easier it is to regret your decisions ... When everything is possible you increase paralysis and decrease satisfaction."


This can mean small decisions, like choosing a salad dressing or new jeans, but it also applies to bigger things like careers, getting married, starting a family. In my line of work as a contractor, I am constantly having to make decisions about how to move forward with my career, which avenue to pursue. Although I love the freedom this creates - because really, I'm living in the world of possibility - it also requires constant attention and deliberating on choices, which in the end often can leave you second guessing and unsatisfied.

Plus, then there's FOMO.

Have you heard of this? Fear of Missing Out. It's a real thing. Although it has likely always been around to some extent, since the advent of social media, FOMO has become much more prevalent. Not only are we constantly having to make choices about what avenues to pursue in our own life, we can see what choices everyone else is making. Vacation destinations, masters degrees, meal plans, weekend adventures ... social media shows us all of these "options" on how to live your life, and since no one can do them all, it creates this sense of missing out. #firstworldproblem I know. But yet ...



Don't we want to live our life to the fullest potential? We love quotes that spur us to action, that make us ponder our life and fill it with meaning. But sometimes, for a person like me who is already on that bandwagon, it would be nice to hear a different message every once in a while, reminding us that life is life, and what happens IS your adventure, don't worry so much about filling every crevice with adventure and meaning (but of course I still do).


That's what I love about the movie Up! Carl and Ellie begin their life with plans for adventure, filling their glass jar with money for this great trip they will take someday. But as we quickly find out (in the first three minutes of the movie - I'm not giving anything away here) they grow old and Ellie passes before they have a chance to fulfill that dream. It's only a while later that Carl discovers the old scrapbook from their childhood, titled "My Adventure Book" that he assumes is blank because they never ending up taking that amazing trip. But then he turns the page to discover that LIFE was their amazing adventure together ... I wish I could embed the video here but you'll have to go watch it on YouTube.



As long as I'm on the topic of choices and choosing paths, let's go there. Where? To Robert Frost's famous poem that takes place where two roads diverge in a yellow wood ...

Did you know it isn't really about choosing the road less travelled by?



I know, it's been quoted that way for years, but a professor clued me in to the art of close reading back in college, and I've been the nerd telling everyone the "true meaning" ever since.

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;        5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,        10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.        15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.



Notice the sections I bolded? If you read the entire poem and pay attention to what Frost is actually saying about these two paths that diverged in a yellow wood, you will see that they are in fact the same. He did not take the one less traveled by, he simply chose one, almost on impulse, because he had to make a choice and convince himself of why he was choosing one over the other ("because it was grassy and wanted wear"). This is a tale about the nature of choice and decision making.

Now, look at the last stanza, where it switches to future tense. If you accurately read the first part of the poem and realize the paths are quite the same, you will understand that this stanza has somewhat of an ironic tone. Sometime in the future, "ages and ages hence"you will look back on your decisions and claim with a dramatic sigh, "well that decision, that one made all the difference." Some interpret this to mean that the choices you make don't really matter - in the end, stuff just happens and we only think it's our choices that made all the difference (see this clip from the popular show Orange is the New Black). But I like to think that the choices you make DO matter, but not because we've taken the road less traveled by. We make decisions, and those decisions lead to other decisions further down the path. And although you don't know where that path is leading at the time and all options may even look the same, in hindsight, those choices DO make all the difference because they determine where else you will travel.




This poem is more about the nature of choice and decision making, and how we try to explain our decisions, than it is about taking the road less traveled by.

For more information about the clip in Orange is the New Black, and to read about the history behind this poem, go here and here. Apparently Frost is known for deliberately misleading his readers ...




Isn't poetry analysis fun? I love the simple fact that when you read a poem you know that every single word, space and punctuation mark is there for a reason. It's a clue to figuring out the true meaning behind the poem.

Kind of like cooking ... 





Well, maybe not, but everything in this recipe is there for a reason. And that reason is tasty, healthy no-fuss weeknight dinner. I make this a couple times a month when I'm tired of sifting through all the blogs and Pinterest options. Too many choices! Sometimes it's nice to have a few meals just decided for you ... kind of like being in a book club.

Here ya go: get yourself some quinoa, your favorite stir fry sauce, and (natural) peanut butter. Make the quinoa according to directions, stir fry your favorite veggies on high heat, add a heaping scoop of peanut butter to coat the veggies, then add the stir fry sauce. I like to mix in the cooked quinoa because I love how it clings to the veggies. Add some peanuts if you like it crunchy and Enjoy!

Now you just have to decide what night you'll make this. But that's okay, because we all like to have at least a few choices, don't we?


2 comments:

  1. Excellent!
    I thought of an insight which came to me when I was struggling with being so busy because of choices I made: " it is good to stay home and do nothing. When I do, something good often happens."

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's right! Sometimes it's good just to put that anchor down for the night (did I hear that expression from you?).

    ReplyDelete

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