Not long ago, I felt completely trapped by certain constructs in my life. I’ve felt this way before. It makes me panicky and angry, quick to blame and I become a fabulous martyr. I feel out of control and out of options. My creativity shuts down and I run out of energy. As you can imagine, I am loads of fun to be around during these times.
In the middle of all of this, I talked to a friend of mine who also happens to be a therapist. I described how I was a wild animal stuck in cage. My heart rate was up, my breathing was shallow, I was pacing as I talked with her on the phone. Then she said something that stopped me in my tracks.
She told me I was choosing to stay in the very situation I was lamenting.
I stammered and began again, explaining to her all the reasons why I was trapped; what forces were keeping me stuck in the situation. I had such a good argument to prove her wrong. But she said it again, “Yes, but you have other options and ultimately, you are choosing this one.”
It took me a couple days to see what she was saying. I did have options. Not all of them were ideal- in fact most of them were really terrible alternatives to the situation I was in, but I did have a say over where I was, even incrementally. And that’s when my freedom returned. My energy shifted and even though I chose not to drastically change the situation I was in, I was able to make several smaller changes that made the situation much more bearable.
When we give power to the sentiment that we’re trapped– in a dead-end job, an unfulfilling marriage, an overbooked schedule, all we are doing is giving up our power. We believe that situations can control us.
Here’s a game for you. State the situation and the reason why things can’t change: “I feel trapped because I take Blake to soccer every day for four hours plus weekend tournaments and it sucks up any time I would have to pursue my dreams. But I can’t do anything about it because he’s on the All-Star team and if he cuts back at all, they won’t let him play.”
Now, write down a choice so far out there, so ridiculous, it’s not one you’d ever make:
“I’ll send Blake to Argentina where soccer is huge. I’ll drop him in the middle of Buenos Aires without a passport, money or a cell phone where some family will feel sorry for him and adopt him. Then he can play soccer to his heart’s content while I study to become a lepidopterist.”
You’re probably not choosing that option, right? So now take one step back, write down an idea a little less ridiculous. Then another step back and another until a realistic and viable option pops up. It’ll probably look something like this:
“I’m not choosing to hire a nanny just to take Blake to soccer practice, but maybe I could call one of the other moms on the team and she’d be willing to take Blake to practice one or two days a week while I stay home and read up on indigenous butterflies and then I could do the same thing for her.”
Ahh- now you’re talking.
When you have a viable option, find a couple more. Maybe you can sit in your car for the first hour of practice and catch up on your reading. Are there any other parents craving the same situation and together you can ask the school to allow you to sit in the library as a way to get away from the noise of the practice?
On a white board in my house I have written the phrase, “I choose to…” for those trapped moments. Even in those times when I reevaluate my choices and decide that a situation is still the best of a few not so ideal options, I feel freer. It’s not a great choice, but it is my choice. That doesn’t take away my ability to reevaluate my choices in the future – even a future a couple minutes away. And that’s when my creative energy kicks back in. I always have a choice.
And so do you. What will you choose?