I recently had the pleasure of hearing Hillary Clinton speak about her new book Hard Choices. It’s easy to assume that if you are Secretary of State or President or Prime Minister you have a lot of hard choices to make. As she shared her thoughts about that, it seemed to me that many of her key points applied just as well to individuals living their lives as it did to politicians and diplomats.
Here is my spin on Hillary’s thoughts on hard choices:
1. Take care of your own responsibilities.
There are all kinds of choices we make about what gets our attention and how we spend our time. The important thing is knowing what you are responsible for and what you are not. Sometimes our days are filled with trying to solve everyone else’s problems. Partly that’s because we want to make life okay for the people we love. Partly it’s because we have gotten into a bad habit doing it. We take on responsibilities that simply are not ours to manage. One of the hard choices we make on a daily basis is whether we are responsible for something or not. Rescuing other people not only doesn’t allow them to build their own problem solving abilities, it also takes away precious time from the things that are actually our own responsibility.
2. Trade-offs are always necessary.
In every situation there is a yes and a no. When you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to something else. Typically we don’t consider what we are saying no to when we agree to do something. If I say yes to another commitment in my time strapped schedule just to make someone happy, I am saying no to time for my own priorities. By identifying both sides of the yes/no equation, we can make more conscious choices about the trade-offs we are making.
3. Seize the opportunities when they arise.
Carpe diem doesn’t mean saying yes to everything that comes along. It means not allowing fear to get in the way of an opportunity that presents itself. Often that means making a hard choice. It means taking a step outside of our comfort zones. The beauty of making those kind of hard choices is that they are also usually rich in opportunities. They contain the best chance of getting unstuck and moving forward. Seize one opportunity and you will likely be rewarded with another one.
4. Summon every lesson you have learned to make the best hard choice.
When faced with a choice, we are not making it in a vacuum. Wherever we are in our lives, we have already learned a lot. Pay attention to those lessons. Create some quiet space and listen to your intuition. Learn to distinguish between the voice of fear and the voice of your inner wisdom. Trust yourself more and apply the lessons you have learned.
5. Losing sometimes helps you win.
Not every hard choice leads to the outcome we want. Failure is a fine option. It’s only when things don’t go our way that we tend to stop and take stock of what happened. We rarely take the time to learn from our successes. So be okay with losing sometimes. That being said, if your choices continually lead to failure, revisit point #4.
6. No one person or principle has a monopoly on the truth.
If our choices feel easy it is sometimes because they are based on needing to be right. When we are up on our high horse about something, things seem pretty black and white. Life is more grey than that. The hard choice might be reaching for what Hillary called “principled compromise”. That sounds a lot like one of my favourite Rumi quotes:
Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make sense anymore.
What are your thoughts on hard choices?
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