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Fear of Choice Quite a number of the people I coach are those who have spent much of their lives doing what they felt that they "had" to do, for one reason or another. They did not really perceive that they had a choice. Perhaps they went to the college that one of their parents had attended, opted into a major because they liked one of the instructors, drifted into a job in that field because that was what they had learned to do... never really popping their heads up out of their familiar cultural surroundings to see if there was something else out there that they would rather do. Or, if they discovered that something, they may have felt that they were not free to pursue it for one reason or another.

Then life happens, and through some crisis - or occasionally, the normal process of self-development - they realize that they DO have choices. But - but - but choices are... scary! People who have in the past not felt free to make choices have to learn a new, exciting, and terrifying way of thinking. (Note that I do not say that have not BEEN free to make choices, because in one way or another we are almost always free to make choices. If someone says that they have no choice, what they usually mean is that they have already dismissed all but one of the options available to them.)

Looking at the cornucopia of options that life and the world offer us can be bewildering. When I stand in a vast grocery store with an entire aisle full of different kinds of cereal, and I need to choose just one, I recognize how this feels - except that my choice of cereal is trivial, whereas making major life choices, when one has not made them before, can have far greater consequences.

Consequences! That is the word that causes choices to be frightening for some people. Once we make choices we take responsibility for the consequences of those choices. We are saying that we are not victims of someone else's actions, WE are making our choices, and therefore we accept whatever consequences may come. The individual who chooses to take early retirement from a corporation so that s/he may start a new business is accepting that the consequences may include success, failure, hard work, and, most of all, the fact that the buck will stop at his/her desk. When you are your own boss there may be no one to turn to for the difficult decisions. (That is one reason why "turn-to" coaching is becoming increasingly popular among executives and small business owners.)

Yes, having full responsibility for who you are and what you do can be overwhelming if you have not been in the habit of thinking this way. The truth is, however, that if you have not thought this way in the past then you have probably been giving your power away. If you have not made choices for yourself, then you have allowed yourself to be the straw, and you have given other people the power to be the wind that blows you wherever you wish.

When we have to make our own choices, it is wise to really know who we are and what we are about. As Socrates (or Plato - scholars disagree) wrote: "The unexamined life is not worth living." We need to examine our own values, thoughts, feelings, intentions, if we are to be able to make choices that are in alignment with who we are, who we want to be, and where we want to go in our lives.

Even when we make our own choices, we cannot be sure where life will take us. The unexpected happens. What is important is that when we take responsibility for our own lives, we know that we are doing all we can. The other side of the coin is accepting that this does not mean that we have control over anything else. The "serenity Prayer" asks for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Using very different language, Stephen Covey refers to the wisdom of focusing our energy on things that are within "our sphere of influence" (that would be the things we can change) and on not wasting energy on things that are outside of our influence (the things we cannot change). Learning to take responsibility for those things that we can change means learning to take responsibility for ourselves. It means accepting that we have choices, and being willing to make those choices. It means understanding that not making a choice is still a form of making a choice. You are choosing not to choose. There are time when this is wise. There are times when it is a way to giving up our power and allowing ourselves to, once again, become straws in the wind, subject to someone else's choices.

� Diana Robinson, Ph.D. Work in Progress may be reproduced in its entirety only, including this copyright line. Disclaimer -The contents herein are solely the opinions of Work in Progress owner, and should not be considered as a form of therapy nor advice. There is no guarantee of validity or accuracy. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, services of a competent professional should be sought. TO SUBSCRIBE to Work in Progress send a blank e-mail to workinprogress-On@lists.webvalence.com. To offer feedback e-mail Diana