I Decide: Putting to Rest "My Miserable Life"

by Jennifer Paros

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”                                                                                               

--Flora Whittemore 

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2011

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2011

I remember being three or four, standing beside my grandmother, who was sitting in the big club chair in her living room smoking, and my father snapping, “Another nail in the coffin!” – his heavy-handed campaign to get her to stop. She did eventually quit her 3 ½-packs-a-day habit cold turkey and went on to live to 87 years of age.  The woman who used to muse over how she once had an ashtray in every room of her house left it behind, with no withdrawal, never craving a cigarette again. 

She had a thirty-something-year-old story about herself as a smoker, but in one decision, she abandoned it.  This is the power all of us have. 

As a young child holed up in my room intent on writing a story, pacing around, imagining all sorts of ideas, I remember thinking: “Writing is like magic - you can create anything you want!”  What I didn’t understand was that it isn’t writing per se that is like magic; it is the decision as to what we want to create that holds all the real power.  

Making a decision – the “act of reaching a conclusion or making up one's mind” – is the most powerful thing we can do. The interesting thing about decisions is we’re making them all the time by default.  So, even if we think we’re not putting anything in particular into play, we’ve already made up our minds whether we’re aware of it or not, and are living the results. 

“You can do anything you decide to do.  You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”                                   

--Amelia Earhart

It is inspiring to watch someone change their minds about themselves and/or their situation.  For out of this creation of a new mindset, they open a new life.  Hope grows new ideas and new visions and from a new vision, the potential for a new decision.  It’s like a flower blooming.  It happens all the time. It’s just that often instead of starting from hope, new ideas are born from a sense of hopelessness. From there, decisions are made accordingly, and what comes to fruition reflects its origins. 

Going numb on life means we feel powerless, which means we haven’t found our way to deciding on purpose yet.  There is nothing more life-affirming than being in the flow of I Choose and I Decide.  Feeling disappointed and wanting to withdraw comes from not feeling the power of choice – from having so many of our experiences form themselves unconsciously and grow from despair planted as old negative images of ourselves. 

When my oldest son was in elementary school, he used to have a catch phrase: “My miserable life.”   (I think the complete version was: “Time to get back to my miserable life.”) It wasn’t one a parent much cares for, but it was said with some humor that served to ease a little of our discomfort. Then one day, we were all riding in the car and he was talking and about to use the phrase, but stopped at “Misera-“.  Correcting himself, he said, “Actually, my life is not miserable.”  

Sometimes, we develop catchy, pithy, maybe even funny ways to describe our lives that are actually outdated.   Where once a decision had been made, now a new better one is waiting in the wings, but we’re not even noticing where we are now.  It’s good to check in and see who we are without our old story because the story we tell forms the basis for our experience.  My son’s decision to stop describing his life as “miserable” meant that he had decided to line up with what he really wanted his life to be.

In writing as in everything, I Decide is always relevant.  The blank page asks, “What do you want next? What do you want now?”  And we answer with our focus; we answer with our decision.  The book we create then reflects that decision.  Though life seems predetermined by where we’ve been, each moment is actually just as blank as a fresh piece of paper, asking us again, “What do you want now?”   And the decision we make, in this moment, has the power to override all others, opening new life experiences and writing new stories. 

Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.

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