My friend Eleanor is one of the most decisive people I know. In the time I’ve had the pleasure of calling her friend, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her doubt herself, once. She knows what she wants in life, in meals, in relationships, in fashion choices, in her faith, and in her tile choice (you can refer back to this post to know just how deeply I respect this particular skill). Not only do I admire her for her steadfast steadfastness, but to be honest it baffles me somewhat, because it is a trait that does not come readily to me. In fact, I would say that my relationship to everyday indecisiveness is one of the longest ones in my life.
What do you want for dinner? I don’t care.
How do you want to spend the day? I don’t mind.
What movie would you like to watch? Whatever you want.
The list goes on.
In fact, one of my most deeply
terrifying annoying and recurring nightmares is simply that I cannot decide what to wear on a given day. It takes me hours. In the dream I have important appointment to go do, and people waiting for me, but I cannot make a choice. The clothing is piled up high on the bed, and I’m trying on outfit #54, desperate to get out of the house, but seemingly unable to.
The problem runs subconsciously deep.
But if I was actually honest with myself, all decision making does not allude me. I don’t have a problem with making big decisions. Marriage? Travel? Jobs? Land purchase? All made without hesitation. Nor do I regret the big decisions made in my life either. So I must have some self assurance lurking in there.
Nor is the problem, I believe, a lack of opinion; I have some deeply passionate stances about many issues (climbing mount everest, collectable spoons, vintage clothing, grace, socialisation, how to spend a weekend in the Adelaide hills, individualism, historic fiction to name a few).
I don’t have a problem with knowing what I want. The opinions are there – under the surface, quiet in the conversation – but they aren’t often given air time when there is someone else in the mix or equation.
When there’s a stake beyond my own, I won’t make the call.
I’m not indecisive – I defer my opinion to others.
So here, now, we come to it.
Looking back over my teenage/young adult relationships, especially with people I wanted to impress (read: popular people, impressive people, or especially people of the opposite sex), I developed the habit of ‘not caring’, ‘not minding’, because far far worse than not getting the pick of choice of eats/movie/destination is the fear of having someone else be disappointed in my choice. “They can’t hate me if I didn’t make the call!”, I would say to myself, and I would let the other person pick the movie. Again.
But surely this is a likeable character trait, right? Being agreeable and amenable at every turn? I’m the perfect companion, right?
Maybe not – not really. A few years into our marriage, my husband, exasperated, shared with me how frustrating it was to be on the receiving end of constant deferral. “Do you realise how exhausting it is having to make all the decisions all the time?”, he lamented. I apologised. And made a decision to try to be better at decisions moving forward.
Because sure, being agreeable is nice – especially when the intent is to be hospitable to someone else’s opinions on a given matter.
But being always agreeable creates its own set of problems, because in giving away your opinion, you are giving the burden of responsibility to someone else to shoulder.
And if i’m being completely honest, that’s what my main MO has been.
I’m not indecisive because I don’t know what I want.
Nor am I indecisive because I am always happy to surrender the choice to provide room for someone else’s.
When I defer choice, I am absolving myself of blame if the situation goes south.
In removing opportunities for people to protest my actions, I am in the very deeply ingrained habit of aiming to be as you-can’t-complain-about-me as possible.
The behaviour is insidious because it forces other people to make calls before I do. And not only that, it creates more opportunities to twist situations or narratives to make me look powerless, or less powerful at minimum, in order to avoid responsibility.
It hurts to admit, but I would say that I have adjusted scripts and retelling of scenarios to make it look like I was less insistent or demanding in a given situation, not because that was necessarily the reality, but in the attempt to absolve myself of blame when someone else is even potentially unhappy with a result.
That’s embarrassing. Because I’m better than that.
The fear of disappointing others runs so deep though, that I will meet that need, even if it is fabricated, even if it is inconvenient or less than ideal, because I would prefer them to be happy (read: with me).
That’s incredibly selfish, hey.
It’s not generous to absolve myself of leadership or responsibility in relationship. Especially, especially, in relationships with your loved ones.
It’s not nice nor helpful not to back myself in the everyday. This doesn’t help me. It doesn’t help my colleagues. My students. My church. My community. My friends. My husband. My children.
If I don’t back myself, I by default make other people do the work for me. And perhaps even more depressing, I deprive myself of the pride of what it feels like when you do carry that responsibility; the gift that failure or disappointment can bring in teaching (even if it sucks at the time); and the joy of success when a decision bring victory and fruit.
I want to own my wins more. I want to own my failures a little more, too.
Maybe there’s a way to back myself without being in danger of arrogance.
Maybe there’s a way to be more helpful to myself – and others – than what complete deferral in an attempt to be likeable does; I have a feeling that people like me because of what I actually bring to the table rather than what I keep it clean from.
Even if the choice goes horribly (or a little bit) wrong – maybe I have to risk that the people in my life will be ok with me despite that. Taking responsibility is what growing up is.
There is a horrendous roundabout in Adelaide called the Britannia roundabout. It’s actually 2 roundabouts in one and brings together about 15 roads. Of course, it’s less than that; We’re no european city roundabout monstrocity. But it sure feels like 15 in rush hour. I know many drivers who will simply refuse to drive down the roads that connect at the roundabout, driving a long route around to avoid it. But I travel it everyday to work. And I kinda like it. Because when I do, I hear my mum’s voice in my head, who took me through the roundabout when I was learning to drive. She loved the roundabout too, and told me the only way to be able to navigate it:
“Assertive, Kirsten. You don’t have to be aggressive when you drive, but you need to be assertive. Take the space that’s there. Indicate your intention and go for it. It won’t lead you astray”.– Mum.
I think of her every time I drive it.
Maybe my choices could do with a little more assertiveness, too.
Take the space that’s there. Indicate your intention and go for it.
It won’t lead you astray”.