Making Choices Matter

Choice is such a whopper of a topic. Isn’t it? How would you describe your relationship with choice? Do you err on the side of safety or throw caution to the wind? I’ve been thinking a lot about choices this summer thanks to a chance conversation. It happened when I was talking with an adult daughter of a friend at a lawn party earlier in June. She was excited about an upcoming move to LA and the start of a new job at a large law firm there. She had been in the public defender’s office in Dallas for a few years and was ready for a change. I was so curious about her decision.  That’s when she said something powerful about choice that sent me reeling….

Bamboo garden, Stanford University

She said matter-of-factly. “I chose law because I didn’t want to make choices. I am not good at choice. I chose something that would eliminate choice.”

I loved her honesty but was leveled by what she was saying. An anti-choice choice? How could she give up on choice?  I should add that her choice was made in the presence of lots of interests, some very emotionally charged. For example, we talked at length about women’s health and nutrition, two topics that resonated deeply with her after the role each played for her aunt who battled cancer successfully for nearly five years.

I’ve been struggling to get my arms around my young friend’s choice.  I am guided by the transition-infused belief that we make our best choices when we rely on what holds value and meaning to us. What if we don’t know those things or won’t allow ourselves to act on them?

I am always ready for the person who might say to me, “I don’t know what holds value and meaning to me.”  I hear it a lot. It is more common than you might imagine and easy to address.

What I am less ready to hear is that we choose to not to choose. That we fear choice itself.

To address those who don’t know or won’t dare choose, I created a choice exercise that also helps us approach choice in a new way.

Making choices matter is straightforward and powerful.  All you need to do is follow three easy steps:

Step 1: Creating a baseline

Bring your awareness to how you make choices today. Are your choices guided by your desire to be accepted? Loved?  Are they driven by a need for safety or security or a matter of principal or a responsibility to others? Maybe your choices stem from your relationship with risk – wanting more or less of it.

Write down a list of how you make choices today. In this first step, we are not judging what we write down. We are simply honoring what comes up. This list we will refer to as your own personalized criteria.

Here is the funny thing about bringing our awareness to choice. It helps us unearth those things that hold value and meaning to us.  These things aren’t often easy to say. We sometimes struggle to draw them out. To compose them. We need to be ready to leave a few cuttings on the floor in the process.

Step 2: Observe your own themes

Once you finish Step 1, take a moment to review what you wrote down. Write a one or two sentence summary of what you observe when reviewing your own personalized criteria for choice.

Now ask yourself some important questions. Is something missing from your list? Is something getting too much prominence? Too little?  Are there gaps in the list because of the types of choices you used in creating the list? While not its primary intent, this exercise helps crystallize those things that hold value or meaning to us.

Before moving on, adjust your list of personalized criteria to ensure its accuracy and make any necessary changes to your one or two sentence summary observations.

Step 3: Checking our Choices

The next step DOES NOT advocate that you run out to make choices using your newly created criteria.  Wouldn’t it be nice if it was that easy?

Instead, let’s check our choices against our criteria.  Think about a current or past choice. How would you rate your choice based upon your above criteria? Are there any gaps? Are you surprised?

This awareness activity can overtime close the gaps as we are more and more aware of our choices and their relative alignment with those things that hold value and meaning to us.

For those who want to take this even further:

If you want to reduce the gap, work on identifying small steps to close it. I ask the people I work with to think about the ‘next smallest step’ they can take to reducing the size of the gap. For example, the gap might reveal that you chose a job that isn’t quite right. Even though your choice may be to remain in that job for now, what is the next smallest step you can take to close the gap? Attend a coffee held by an industry association in a field you are really interested in? The choice doesn’t change, but you use your awareness of the gap and the next smallest step technique to work towards closing the gap itself so that the next choice is closer to alignment.

My choices have always been driven by my principals. Equality – what we today talk about as inclusion – has been my issue ever since I was in college. In the years immediately following college, I worked full time but I was deeply involved in equal rights. Think Katie Morosky in the movie, The Way We Were. Writing op-eds. Heading to DC for demonstrations. Joining advocacy groups.  My deep involvement led me to conclude that the road to change was difficult and very slow in the advocacy world. I reasoned that the real way to influence equality was to serve as a visible female leader in the for profit arena. Once I landed firmly there what happened to my choices? Let’s face it. There were a lot of hurdles. And sadly, the #MeToo era has revealed that I and others didn’t make enough progress to matter. Nevertheless, I am intrigued by choice and continue to evaluate.

My hope is that you choose to be who you are in the fullness of those things that hold value and meaning to you. The choices made via this lens can offer us an incredible gift.  They enable us to explore, to grow, to learn, to live, to love.

How will you make your next choice?

Linda R. (

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4 responses to “Making Choices Matter

  1. Excellent and thought provoking. We need to lead with change, small or great.
    Thank you Linda. Your wisdom and leadership are inspirational.

  2. Great post. The notion of ‘deselecting ‘ choice is anathema to me but I doubt your friend really did that. I will say you made a difference in the for profit space.

  3. John, always great to hear your voice. Thanks for the good words. Hope summer 2019 was a good one.

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