174: We Choose Our Problems

174: We Choose Our Problems

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Have you ever thought about the fact that we choose our problems?

Now, this is a phrase that sometimes gets people all up in arms so I want to start off by saying that you are not responsible for what other people do. And you can’t control what other people do. There are situations where you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You don’t cause the deer to run in front of your car or the drunk to be on the road at the same time as you. You don’t have any control over that weird rare disease you have or that your significant other died in a freak accident. So please don’t send me hate mail telling me that you aren’t in control of all the horrible things you’ve dealt with in your life. This is not about that.

This is a talk today about personal responsibility, in big and small things.

Personal responsibility is big thing for me, but when I think about personal responsibility I generally think about big things. I grow my own food. I homeschooled my kids. I started a business and I work from home.

But we make decisions all day long, our entire life long. Some are big, others seem so tiny and insignificant that we hardly realize they’re a decision at all. But they all matter, they all have pros and cons, and they all determine the majority of the problems we’re going to deal with.

The Pros and Cons of Choice

Every choice we make has a pro and a con. And when we make a choice we are accepting the pros of that choice and also the cons. Another way to say it is that “we choose our hard”.

You make the decision to buy the more expensive vehicle because it didn’t have as many immediate issues as the cheaper vehicle you passed up. The pros, you have a more reliable vehicle. Cons, you might have a bigger car payment to swallow or you’ve dipped in more to your vehicle fund to buy the vehicle.

You make the decision.

You choose whether or not to buy the Girl Scout cookies. You choose what time your alarm goes off. You choose where you work. You choose how many dogs you have. You choose to live in the state and country you reside in. You choose how many times a week you wash your hair.

You make choices, and they all come with pros and cons.

Decisions Steer Your Life

Every decision we make steers our life. And in some ways those decisions set us on roads that are really hard to back up from or it’s really hard to understand or relate to people who are on different roads.

My husband and I chose to have our kids pretty young. I was 23 when we had our oldest. Our youngest was born a year later. And now, a couple weeks before I will turn 43 years old, I will have two adult children. But I have friends who are almost as old as me who are still having babies. I have friends my age who are just putting their oldest in kindergarten. Which means we’re in different places in life with different opportunities and responsibilities — because of choices we’ve made.

There are big decisions that steer your life. Where you decide to put down roots. What you decide to do for employment and the path you follow due to that. What you want to be when you grow up. Who you marry. When you get married. If you stay married. Some of those bigger decisions can really solidify the path that we’re walking on and determine who we come in contact with and how we relate to each other.

We make choices every minute

Not all choices are big, though.

Recently, I was particularly crabby because I knew I was going to have to run to the feed store and grab feed because we were completely out of feed and taking 20 minutes to run to the feed store was not what I wanted to do that morning. I was tantruming around the farm, slamming stuff around, and you know whose fault it is that we are down to crumbs and I couldn’t not go to the feed store? My fault. I had chosen to be lazy for several days in a row, and watched the feed dwindle down, and kept saying, tomorrow I’ll go get more, and then we completely ran out.

My fault. I made the choice not to go, and then I got to deal with the pros and cons of that decision.

Not all choices are big. We make choices every minute.

Choosing to respond to that hateful comment someone made to you, whether online or in person: there are pros and cons to that.

There are pros and cons to whether we eat a handful of chips or the entire bag.

Whether we just say “we should really go to the gym” or if we actually get in the car and go there.

Whether we get up at 4am or 8am or go to bed at 9pm or midnight.

Whether you engage in conversation with that person who is obviously flirting with you.

In every one of those choices, there are pros or cons. And when you make a choice about something, you’re deciding these are the pros I’m taking on and these are the cons I will have to deal with.

Admitting that requires a lot of honesty about personal responsibility.

Take responsibility where you can

When you’re dealing with a situation you’re not happy with, at some point you have to consider how you got there.

If you’re in debt up to your eyeballs, you’re there because of choices you made.

If you wake up and rush to the coffee maker, and realize you’re out of coffee beans, you’re there because of choices you made.

Now again, I am not saying that you can control other people’s actions. Accidents and tragedies and junk definitely happen as part of our human experience.

But be an adult. Pay attention to other people’s actions. Pay attention to surroundings. Pay attention to what’s going on. Part of personal responsibility and choosing your problems is being honest enough to look at what’s going on around you, thinking four steps ahead and making a logical assumption about possible turnouts. I mean, I like to think I’m a pretty independent, capable, badass woman who can take care of herself in a shitty situation, but you also won’t find me in Northeast Minneapolis at midnight.

In this day and age, it’s easier to be a victim than anything else. I would say mainstream everything caters to that mindset. I don’t agree with this mindset. This mindset makes me want to beat my head against the wall. It’s easier to be a victim is the complete opposite of accepting the fact that we choose the majority of our problems.

I saw a quote the other day that said, I am only interested in hearing about your problems once. Our next conversation has to be about solutions. And I loved that quote. I have a friend who is known for listening to people and then answering, “so what are you going to do about that?” She knows about the awesomeness of personal responsibility and owning up to the problems you’ve chosen in your life.

Own up to your decisions

Personal responsibility means you make a decision—either out of purpose or laziness—and then you own up to what happens because of that decision. And you also don’t make everyone else’s life around you be miserable because of your decision. In other words, if you’re the one who didn’t stop and get gas yesterday and now you have to get gas in the rain, don’t be a crabby two year old to your family because you’ve got to go out in the cold and blowing rain to fill your tank.

Own up to your decisions. Don’t start your Christmas shopping on Dec 14th and be upset when the stores are out of something or shipping by Christmas isn’t guaranteed. Unless this is your first rodeo, you should know how this works.

Don’t be involved in the Christmas get together if it doesn’t make you happy. If you agree to go to Aunt Whoever’s for the holidays and you know every year it’s a shit show and every year your family leaves questioning again why they decided to go, maybe this year, make the decision to not go.

There are pros and cons to every decision. When you make a decision to participate, you might be miserable, but you might make someone else happy. When you decide to not participate, you will be happy and have more peace, but someone else might be upset. You’ve got to decide whose happiness and peace is more important. And that’s another decision. Which has pros and cons.

But you have to make that decision, and then own up to the pros and cons.

If you decide to attend Aunt Whoever’s Christmas party, don’t be an ass to your immediate family because you really didn’t want to go.

I’ve met people (and I’ve also been this person) who says yes to that thing, that responsibility, that organization that makes you look really involved and helpful and great… but then you make the people around you miserable when you realize now have to follow through on that thing you agreed to do.

‘Scuse me, who made that decision to do that thing?

Oh, yeah. That’s right.

Stop being lazy about your decisions

Sometimes we just go with the status quo. Going with the status quo whether that means following the crowd or simply doing what you’ve always done can be a lazy decision—because it is a decision. If you agree with the crowd or you’re comfortable with what you’ve always done because it’s working, great. But if not, and you just keep trudging along with how you’ve always done it, or stepping in line with the crowd, you are being lazy. And you’re being a coward.

Choice isn’t always easy. It’s not always like standing with the fridge door open and saying do I want egg nog or do I want some cheese? I find that the more important the decision is, the harder it is, and there are often bigger pros and cons to sift through. And we need to normalize that. We need to normalize “I have a decision I need to make that will make a change in my life and staying where I am has these pros and cons, moving forward has these pros and cons” and then working through that. And understanding that no matter what we choose, there will be pros and there will be cons.

If we stay where we are and get comfortable, we run the risk of sleeping through our life—and that should never be the normal.

Sidenote: you can make a decision without publicizing the decision

Here’s an interesting thing that happens with some folks. They make a decision and then they have to talk about it, especially if it’s contrary to the norm. Especially if it’s juicy. Especially if it can get Grandma or Susan or Bob on edge, and then this person is “shocked” when an argument starts about it at the holiday table.

Listen folks, here’s how you make a decision:

  1. Weigh the pros and cons of a decision.
  2. Make a decision.
  3. Follow through on having made that decision.

Those are the steps. Blabbering your decision is not a necessary part of that list. If you decide to blab your decision, that’s a choice you make, and you have to deal with the pros and cons of having blabbed your decision.

Some decisions you make are going to be obvious, people will know you’ve made them. If you don’t put your kid on the bus or drive your kid to the local school, it will be pretty obvious you decided to homeschool. If you haul a chicken coop and sacks of feed out of the back of your truck, it will be pretty obvious you decided to start on the road to self-reliance in your food. If you decide to go on a diet, your weight loss will give it away.

But not every choice we make has to be publicized or shared. My kids made it to adulthood without more than a handful of people knowing they never had any vaccinations. And I realize saying that is ironic, because I just said “not every choice you make has to be publicized” but I’m sharing it now because after 18ish years, I think it makes a point. You can make a choice—even a contrary, dramatic, anti-establishment one—without shoving it in people’s faces.

So many of the decisions we make in our life have zero to do with anyone else, but some of us try to make them part of other people’s lives. As in ta da, look at me, or tee hee hee, guess what we did…

And you can absolutely do that! But it’s a choice.

And there are pros and cons to every choice we make.

There are no perfect, struggle-free choices

You choose your struggle. You choose your hard. You choose the problems you’re going to deal with.

Listen to that. We choose the problems we will deal with. Which is to say that any decision we make comes with issues. Somewhere along the line we got it in our head that we’re gonna make the “right decision” and everything will be peachy keen.

You guys, that’s not a thing.

  • Choose to stay home with your kids? There are issues.
  • Choose to work full time and send your kids to someone else for the day? There are different issues.
  • Choose to homeschool? There are issues.
  • Send your kids to public school? There are different issues.
  • Forgo college and jump right into starting your own business? Issues.
  • Do six years of college and graduate with a fancy piece of paper? Different issues.
  • Follow your dreams? There are issues.
  • Get a sensible, reliable job? There are issues.
  • Get married? Stay single? Apartment in the cities? House in the country? Get a puppy from a breeder? Get a rescue dog from a shelter?

There will always be issues to deal with.

There is no perfect decision. There are only decisions that work best for us coupled with issues and problems and “hard” that we agree to deal with when we make the decision. The cons don’t go away. We don’t make a decision and everything is peachy, there’s always a flip side to what we’ve decided. There’s always something to deal with because of what we’ve chosen.

Personal responsibility and the problems we choose

Take this information and think about it in regards to yourself, and those big and little decisions that you make everyday. I find that this helps me especially when I’m frustrated with something I have to deal with, I take a minute to think, hey, we choose our problems. It helps me focus on the positive flip side of what I’m doing, and gives me an opportunity to think, hey, if I don’t want to deal with this problem, what change do I need to make?

Because, personal responsibility. Right?

But it also applies to other people as well. It can give you some insight into why people do what they do and it can almost release you from having to respond or care.

In situations I don’t understand regarding other people, I have started to answer, “well, we choose our problems.” My husband and I have an acquaintance who deals with some stuff in their own life that I would never deal with. And when my husband and I sometimes ponder why this person puts up with the things they put up with, my final answer has come to be, “well, we choose our problems.” There has to be a benefit, there has to be a positive flip side, and until the negatives outweigh the positive for this person (or the person becomes too uncomfortable) nothing will change.

But it’s a choice not to change. And we all choose our own problems.

What problems have you chosen?

— Amy Dingmann, 12-7-21

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1 thought on “174: We Choose Our Problems”

  • I read it, and then read it again. The thought that kept coming to the front of my brain, was that while pushing this message is so necessary in this day & age, it is the saddest commentary that I’ve heard in my 62 years on this earth. Personal responsibility should be like breathing. You just friggin’ DO it. No presumptions, NO excuses, NO bullsh*t, you just DO it because it is the next right thing. Period.

    I hear many comments on the internet that seem to skirt all responsibility. It happened because it how they were raised, or the horrible job they have, or their wife (husband) is the reason the relationship is toxic. I am ill of it too Amy. People have to empower themselves to take responsibility. Which of course, is basically what you said. I was raised well at times in my life, and also in a horrid hell in others. I had to decide whether to live my life how it should be, or use all of my excuses- that I felt rather entitled to btw- and I chose.

    Thanks for saying these things that made me not just sad, but grateful.

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