The only way to learn

At one point or another in our lives, we’ve been told that it’s okay to make mistakes, okay to fail, to screw up. The catch is that we are meant to learn from the mistakes, pick ourselves up after failures, and find a new path — now that we know what to do differently.

And along the way, we’ve been supported by the people in our lives that care about us the most when we take those missteps, hit rock bottom, or feel like nothing is going right. It’s our parents, our significant others, coworkers, family, teachers, and best friends. Usually those same people have words of wisdom, their two cents as to what is the right choice, or the new direction. We may not immediately agree with them or even appreciate it, but life has that funny way of working out so that about 99% of the time, those people were right.

But back to mistakes. You make them, and you learn from them so it doesn’t happen again, right? Example: You burn your hand while cooking because you didn’t use a pot holder. So next time, you use a pot holder, because you clearly don’t want to be burned again.

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How to get what we really want

We are constantly being presented by choices, some clearer than others. Some will affect us for about five minutes, like which flavor of ice cream to get, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Others leave a lasting impact, like moving, getting married, having kids or getting a dog, or starting a new job.

Why some of these choices are easier to make than others is a great mystery at times. What is it that holds us back from moving forward? Are we afraid of something, or someone? Is it the fear of failure, or the knowledge that the direction you thought you were taking isn’t at all what you wanted in the end?

We’ll never know what will happen after making a big change in our lives. We can only imagine-  it might be hard, it might make us cry a few times, it make make us immediately regret it, it might make us wish we hadn’t done it. But…we’ll also never know how good things can be, how happy we might be, or as my friend Drew says, how “wonderfully great” it might be.

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How do we know what’s “best” for us?

When it comes time to make life-altering decisions, sometimes, the facts are clear, the options are A or B, 1 or 2, this or that. The decision itself may not be easy, but at least all the data is there, and it’s just making that final choice.

But what about when everything isn’t clear? What about when you want more time, need more time, hope there is more time? What about when it involves someone else’s life? What if you’re so unsure after months of thinking about it, talking about it, arguing about it, crying about it, that you’re not even sure anymore what you wanted in the first place?

And what to do, when everyone around you says, “You have to do what’s best for YOU.”

It’s not that simple, when you aren’t even sure what’s best anymore. When you thought what was best maybe isn’t anymore, what you think should be best isn’t what you want, when so many things are still undefined and undetermined, it’s not that simple.

You see it in the movies or in finales of tv shows: girl runs off to her dream job (good for her!)…but 5 minutes later her taxi is turning around, or she’s showing up on the stoop of the boy, saying no, I want the love! Who doesn’t love happy endings like that…but when it’s your own life, it’s not quite like that.

People hold back on making major decisions because they’re scared, because it means something different, because it means taking responsibility, doing the hard thing. And when one person holds back too long, it eventually means the other person has to make that hard decision for the both of them and then no one is happy. How do you get around that? How do you figure out the “best” decision for everyone involved?

What’s driving us?

Every day, in various situations, we ask questions like, what’s the reason for this? Why are we doing this? What’s the goal? Who is behind this? Who are we doing this for?

We ask it at work when we begin a new project and there isn’t much direction yet. We ask it of our friends or family if we’re confused by their actions, or if a relationship is stalled. We ask it of ourselves when thinking about our future, when setting goals for the year, when making life-changing decisions.

Sometimes, we have the answer. Sometimes, it’s as easy as setting a fundraising target or making a project plan with roles and responsibilities. Sometimes it’s telling someone you love the truth, clearing the air, and fixing the problem.

But sometimes, these questions seem almost unanswerable. Impossible. Cloudy. Questions you know aren’t going away, but still, months later, sometimes years later, you still can’t pin down.

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What do you want to do?

As a kid, we were endlessly asked by parents, teachers, friends and grandma what we wanted to be when we grew up. Back then, it was easy: a firefighter! a ballerina! In my case, a writer. As we grew older, the question still lingered, but the answer wasn’t always so simple. The one or two-word career we dreamed about wasn’t going to just poof! appear on a business card all ready for us to hand out. For some people, it’s because their dream career is unrealistic, too expensive, or too hard. But for some of us, that dream is still alive, but now, the question is more about how do we fit that into the rest of our lives? Too bad we can’t have it as easy as dogs: wake up, eat, poop, sleep, do it all over again. What a life!

What's all the fuss about?

We get boyfriends, girlfriends, rent payments. Our chosen field is suddenly not the best to enter into in bad economic times and changing technologies (newspaper reporter, anyone?). Suddenly, it’s not just about picking something and being it – and that age-old question of “what do you want to do?” is constantly staring us in the face, making us impatient, causing us to hem and haw over our every decision.

Four years ago, I didn’t know what exactly I would be doing, or where I would be. I just knew that I wanted to be writing, and living in a fun place (Chicago, DC, NYC, etc.). When I decided to graduate early and get a head start on life, I had only starting dating my boyfriend a week before. A boyfriend who was headed to law school, so that already meant long times ahead. Four years ago, I didn’t really have a plan, for once in my life, except to go do something I loved, and I figured the rest would come along.

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