Life is full of choices. Some we make without thinking, others we agonize over for days, weeks, months... or even longer. As the years have gone by we have been working towards having a more intentional life. This means taking every-day decisions and measuring them against our values. The end result is one of the following scenarios:
- We are satisfied with the current choice and we feel it supports our values, so we leave things the way they are.
- We are not satisfied with the current choice, we don't think it supports our values but we are not prepared to devote the time or energy to deal with it yet.
- We are not satisfied with the current choice, we don't think it supports our values and we want to change it now!
This post is about the third scenario, and the issues that emerge when we take a path less traveled.
How often you analyze why you do what you do? How many decisions do you make that are based on what you see around you instead of what you actually believe? External influences can be both subtle and powerful, leading us to feel insecure, guilty, alienated, misunderstood, and like bad parents if we make decisions that are not the norm. These influences can come directly from people who know you, or indirectly by prevailing culture and popular media.
Here are a few examples from our own life:
- Going vegan: Driven by health issues that I experienced early in our marriage, we gradually migrated our family to a vegan diet. This was especially difficult for us because our children were young. We often felt guilt for not giving them things that were considered required - the biggest being milk. There were many family and cultural influences surrounding us which made this transition very difficult.
- Stay-at-home mom: My wife and I decided before we were married that one of us would stay home with the children. Since we wanted to breast-feed and she has the breasts, we decided that she would be the best candidate (at least early-on). Needless to say, the culture we live in puts very little value on people that don't earn an income. Popular media paints a very un-inspiring picture of what it means to be a stay-at-home parent.
- Homeschooling: Prior to getting married, prior to meeting my wife, I met a family that homeschooled and I really liked what I saw. After getting married we decided that this is what we wanted to do with our kids. Over the years, we have heard all of the arguments against home-schooling. Early on, we felt alone in our decision. Today, we have no doubt in our mind that this was the right decision and we have met lots of people who feel the same way.
There are many more that could be added to the list, but the actual contents of our outside-the-norm list is not really the point. The point is that if you make decisions that are considered outside-the-norm, you will need to be able to deal with the adversity you encounter along the way. What follows is my list of recommendations for helping to deal with these situations:
- Understand the critics: People as a whole are generally insecure. Negative reactions to your decision often will come from others insecurity. People can feel threatened or inferior because they may infer from your decision, that you disapprove of the way they do or did things. Understanding this will go a long way towards helping you understand the reactions of others.
- Don't be on the defensive: Don't take every negative reaction from people as a personal attack. Don't feel like you always have to defend yourself, you will most likely just get yourself into fruitless arguments. Find creative ways to diffuse negative comments, and instead focus on building others up, making them feel less insecure about the way they may do things.
- Pull-back from popular media: Popular media largely portrays lifestyles that are not real. Advertising (which drives popular media) tries to tell you what you to buy in order to have those unrealistic lifestyles. It is very easy to get trapped into thinking that you are not normal if you live a different life than the one that they are trying to sell you on.
- Inspire yourself: Find articles, stories, books, blogs, and forums about people that inspire you. Look for things published by real people, not companies or corporations trying to market you a miracle. Look for inspiration close to home in your neighborhood, town, or state. Get involved with local clubs, groups, or organizations.
- Teach by example: Make your decisions and subsequent actions speak for themselves. If you made the right decision, your actions will speak louder than words. The nay-sayers will have a lot less to say about it, and you will not have to explain yourself.
- Educate yourself: Make sure your decisions are well informed. The more informed you are about your decision, the more comfortable you will feel about it. Make sure you are informed about all the issues surrounding your decision, not just the pros, but the cons as well.
- Be willing to change: If when informing yourself, you learn something new, don't be afraid to alter your course for the better. Just because you make a decision doesn't mean that you can't change. Listen to alternate view points and try to understand them, there may be some truth in there that you need to take into consideration. Nobody has all of the right answers, don't be afraid to admit that.
- Be willing to admit you are wrong: Be prepared to admit when you are wrong. Don't be afraid to change your mind, stop, or turn back. Stubbornness and pride will do more harm than good.