Funny things, choices. You make them, and sometimes they work out, and sometimes they’re a disaster. And sometimes the choices you think will be disasters, aren’t, but the ones that seem simple and straightforward leave you hunkered down wondering why your world is exploding.
And there are times you make a choice because it’s the only thing left for you to do, in which case, is it even really a choice?
I’ll be the first one to admit I’ve made some damned stupid choices over the years. Often because I lacked information, and strangely enough, it’s difficult to ask for answers when you don’t know there are questions you should be asking.
Then there are choices based on a flawed world view, in the sense that I’d done Thing A before and everything had been fine, so we’ll try Thing A again! Oh. Wait. Thing A was not helpful this time. Thing A, in fact, made things infinitely worse. But…but…it used to work. Why didn’t it now? A question that, while certainly thought provoking, doesn’t always have a good answer.
So I live with the fallout of some of these fatally flawed choices that I made with no way of knowing, at the time, how flawed they were.
As a concrete example, my choice to refi the house multiple times, always including taking out some funds to pay off the credit card debt, without thinking long and hard about why I kept running up credit card debt. I mean, the credit card companies kept raising my limit, that must mean I’m doing the right thing! (Good little consumer!) Keep in mind that for most of this time I had a nice, stable, long-term job that allowed me to keep the cards pretty well paid up. And it isn’t as if I was buying all the latest new toys for grown-up people; I was just…spending. Had I access to a time machine (damned TARDIS is in the shop AGAIN), I think this pair of actions — the credit card spending and the repeated refinancing — are the things I’d do my best to change.
It has been said, on a website I frequent, that any solution that requires the use of a time machine to implement can be ignored. And in this case, I don’t have a credit card, nor do I think it likely I’ll ever own a house again. Not impossible, never say never and all that, but highly unlikely. Which is okay. It kind of has to be, since I have the choice to apply for a card but no control over the Powers that will decide whether to say yes or no.
Bit of a limited choice. 🙂 Still, I could, and likely will, but will likely not hold my breath over it.
On the other hand, I have that choice now, where four years ago this time I was down to no choices. It felt like it, more accurately, because even then, I could have done any number of things differently. They just wouldn’t have led to an outcome any closer to positive than the choice I did make. To be even more specific, in two weeks, it will be the fourth anniversary of the day I left my house for the last time.
I can see, now, that many of the choices I’d made leading up to that point (such as the credit card-and-refi merry-go-round) were
less than helpful pretty damned stupid, but I had absolutely no basis for comparison. I can also see that by the time I realized just exactly how dire my financial situation was how screwed I was, money-wise, things over which I had no control had narrowed my choices to…almost none.
Walk away from the house? How could I, when I still needed a place to live? That didn’t make sense to me — it wasn’t a viable choice. Sell it? Same thing, except add in the knowledge that it needed just enough work to get less than its actual value (or so it seemed to me), and if it wouldn’t clear more than the loan value I’d still have nowhere to go, and no money to start anywhere else.
I could choose which jobs to apply to, but I couldn’t make the companies interview me, let alone hire me. On the other hand, I could choose to have a conversation with an acquaintance that resulted in finally landing a job, although not one that let me get out of the hole I was in. Then I could, and did, choose not to look for anything better, on the grounds that a bird in the hand, etc….and a year later, when the owner chose to shut down without any real warning, I was left with no choices. Things were too far gone by then, and four months later, it was me in tears driving away from the only place I’d ever lived that felt like home…because I had no other choice.
But within the constraints of fear and feeling helpless to do anything right after so much time feeling I’d done everything wrong, I still had choices. Yes, I had to apply for X number of jobs a week to keep my food stamps and general relief, but I could choose which companies got my resumes. (Which was also a choice not to listen to people who told me, “APPLY FOR ALL THE THINGS” hoping that one of them would pan out, when the job-search program through the shelter actively discouraged that scattershot approach.)
And I could choose, when I’d submitted one application through one of the many job-search websites, to click through on their suggested “Thanks for applying for Job XYZ! We think you might also like these job listings!” links. And I could choose one for a sales job, even though I hated sales, because the job description wasn’t looking for a specific job history so much as it wanted certain character traits. When I got the offer of an interview, I could (and did) choose to accept.
And after the interview, the company could choose to offer me a job.
Which they did.
So today I’m grateful for having the ability to choose. Because for a very long time, I felt I had no choice. I like it much better this way.