Why do some thoughts show up out of nowhere and keep you thinking about them for days?
Please don’t tell me that never happens to you.
My brain is like a mental playlist set on shuffle that randomly picks an idea and says, OK, let’s see how she’ll dance to this one.
Are random thoughts really random, or are they meant to help us understand something?
Lately, I’ve been working on this two-part question: What are the most life-changing decisions you have made, and how would your life be different if you’d never made them?
It isn’t a hard question. The answers are fairly obvious. The hard part is trying to figure out why I’m even asking it.
The first big decision I made in life was what kind of person I wanted to be. To decide that, I studied people I admired: My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, teachers and parents of my friends. On the whole, they were kind, decent, hard-working and God-fearing. Best of all, they seemed to like me. So I decided to try to be like them. It was a decision I’ve not always kept well, but I keep trying.
My second big decision was whether (and how) to go to college. I liked school. I liked feeling smart. And I basically had two choices. I could find a way to go to college. Or I could go to work in a textile mill with my mother and older sister.
I decided to go to college. But how? My family had no money. My mother dropped out of high school to get married at 15. My stepfather never learned to read. We could barely afford to eat, let alone pay for tuition.
But here’s a thing I discovered. Making a decision to do something important doesn’t always mean you have the resources or even a clue about how to do it. It just means you’re willing to follow your heart and leave the rest to God.
Thanks to my best friend’s parents, who encouraged me to take a test, I won a scholarship.
College taught me a lot. Mostly how to daydream. Other decisions would follow. Some were good. Some not so much.
But my next big decision — one of the most important I’d ever make — was to marry someone I loved and admired and could enjoy being with for however long we might have.
What next? Not everyone needs to have children. But I knew beyond a doubt that I did.
The doubts came later, after the kids were born (three babies in five years), but those doubts never lasted for long.
Choosing to be a mother was the best choice of my life. It made me smarter, stronger, wiser, humbler and happier than anything I’d ever done.
Choosing a career after my children were in school was a big decision, but it wasn’t really a choice. I didn’t choose to be a writer. Writing chose me. Doors opened, and I wandered in. But looking back, I realize that even then, I was following my heart.
When my husband lost a four-year battle with cancer, a friend offered me this wise advice:
“The challenge for you now,” he said, “having lost your loved one, is to live a life that is honoring to his memory, while at the same time, that life moves forward, so that only one person has died and not two.”
The decision to follow that advice has been one of the most difficult and rewarding I’ve ever made. It led me, years later, to marry, once again, someone I loved and admired and would enjoy being with for however long we might have.
Looking back at decisions we’ve made in the past, good and bad, can help us decide how to live going forward. As my old college history teacher used to say, those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it.
What are the most life-changing decisions you’ve made over the years? What are the ones you will make today?