by Erin Elaine
Life is all about choices, from the big things to the little things. Life doesn’t just happen. Life is only a series of choices, good or bad, mundane or exciting, safe or risky.
I was thinking about this as I was heading to the metro after work today. Every single day I make choices. Living in Madrid is a choice I make every day. Being a teacher is a choice I make every day. There is always another option. It might be a worse option, but the choice exists.
This applies to the small things, like choosing to watch The Walking Dead this evening. I am making a choice not to study Spanish tonight, and not to go out with friends tonight. Writing it out like that makes me feel guilty, like I should instead be studying Spanish, but I have to own up to the fact that it is a conscious choice I am making.
It especially applies to the big things. These choices are just as deliberate as smaller choices, maybe even more so.
I made a conscious choice to change my major from Math to History, even when my father threatened to cut me off and disown me, even when he made me cry more times than I can remember.
I made a conscious choice to move to Madrid to teach here.
In general, I make a conscious choice to spend my money on travel rather than possessions. This past summer I threw out nearly everything from my childhood room, because I made a conscious choice not to clutter up my life with things. The last tv I bought was 4 years ago and it cost me $10. I only go clothes shopping about 3 times per year, sometimes less. These are all conscious choices. If you’re staring at your new $400 tv watching a travel show and wishing you were out traveling, it’s because you made a conscious choice to buy that tv rather than a plane ticket (or other form of travel).
I’m making a choice to vote for Jill Stein instead of Barack Obama. Every single citizen who is 18+ and isn’t a felon has that same choice. Not registering to vote is a choice. Not turning in your ballot is a choice. Voting for the lesser of two evils is a choice. And voting for Jill Stein is my choice, because I refuse to buy in to the myth that there are only two options and anything else is wasting a vote. Voting for who I want to vote for isn’t wasting a vote, it is the f*cking definition of democracy.
Every single day I make a choice to live in Spain, and to follow my dream of teaching.
So many people claim they have a dream to “x” or “y” (usually something exciting like photography or something noble like counseling lgbt youth) but every single day and every single year, they make the conscious choice to keep their life exactly the way it is. If your life hasn’t changed in the last 2 years, it is because you have made a choice to keep it the same.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with working in a cubicle from 9 to 5, then returning home to watch movies or play board games or whatever. Many people find joy from simple hobbies that do not require them to change their lives. But if you are one of those people, then don’t say you envy me, because you don’t.
People like to pretend that there is simply no opportunity to change their lives, but most of the time that isn’t true (unless you have a really huge obstacle like cancer or homelessness).
There were other openings in the teaching abroad program I was hired through. I emailed the application to other out-of-work teachers I knew. Some of the other teachers here also encouraged friends to apply. But all of those friends? Didn’t even bother filling out the application. They made a choice to stay right where they were. And if they’re happy with that, great. But they shouldn’t pretend like I’m lucky or I had an opportunity that wasn’t available to them.
Stop pretending like your life just happened to you without any agency of your own. Because that means you think MY life just happened to me without any agency of my own, and that is NOT true. There are sacrifices involved with living abroad. It’s really f*cking hard being thousands of miles away from every single person I’d ever met in my first 25 years of life. It’s hard living somewhere where everyone speaks Spanish. It’s hard getting used to a new culture and trying not to step on other people’s toes. For that matter, choosing to be a teacher anywhere also involves a lot of sacrifices. But, I made this choice, and I am very happy with it, and I feel proud that this was a choice I made, not random happenstance.
If there is something in your life that you aren’t happy about, think long and hard about whether or not you can change it. We have a tendency to assume things can’t be changed, but we often don’t put in the effort to really consider if that is the truth. If you’ve been saying for 5 years that you “want to go back to school” and you haven’t, WHY haven’t you? What is stopping you? If you’ve been saying for 3 years that you want X career, but you haven’t pursued it, WHY haven’t you? If you claim you want to travel the world, and you haven’t, WHY haven’t you? If you claim you want to learn another language or learn to play an instrument but you haven’t, WHY haven’t you? What is the CHOICE you made that led to all of these things in your life?
Have some courage and go for it. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Life is defined by opportunities, even the ones we don’t take.