I made the wrong choice. I should have moved to Sydney. That’s what I tell myself every single day. I had this big opportunity once, a job offer I shouldn’t have turned down for fear of the unknown. I was scared of moving so far from my family, of being alone, of flying alone for so many hours when I hate flying (yes, that’s a big problem for a traveler!). So I made the wrong choice, one I will always regret. But that’s the point, I suppose: it’s hard to decide what’s best for our future, when we only have the present.
We have a choice
Think about Sliding Doors, the film starring Gwyneth Paltrow. The protagonist misses the train and her life gets split in two. In this case a single moment trigs a series of events that change her life. In other cases, it’s a choice we make – or don’t make – that creates two parallel lives.
How do we make choices? Some make lists, writing pros and cons and comparing advantages and disadvantages. They use mathematics. Other listen to their heart and follow their instinct. For some people, making choices can be especially hard. I’m one of them. But what is a choice in the first place?
A choice is “the act of picking or deciding between two or more possibilities”, or “the opportunity or power to choose between two or more possibilities”. So you’ve got a choice to make when there are two or more alternatives. Sometimes the choice is simple. You know what you want and you go for it, ignoring the other possibilities. Even in front of one hundred ice cream flavours, I will always pick my two favorite ones. Sometimes it’s a little bit harder.
The (difficult) art of making choices
Do you remember what Joe Fox says in Nora Ephron’s movie You’ve Got Mail?
“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”
I bet you’ve experienced it too, the odd feeling of standing in line in a place like Starbucks, trying to decide between a caramel macchiato and a soy cappuccino, or between a vanilla latte and a green tea. You finally ask for a tall, decaf cappuccino, just to regret it immediately. Suddenly you wish you’d ordered tea. It happens to me everyday. Then there are choices that have the power to change your life, or someone else’s.
We often hear people say, “I had no choice”. That’s not true. The alternative was not doing what they did, or doing what they didn’t do. Declining a job offer is a choice that sends our life in a certain direction. What if we had accepted? For sure, we would be in a different place now. Or perhaps we would just have taken another road to get to the same place.
In love with Sydney
Back to Sydney: it’s such a beautiful city. I remember when I landed, after 22 hours on a plane, my first thought was: the light is amazing. Clear, translucent, completely different from anything I’ve ever seen. Then I slept for a whole day and when I woke up, it was dark. I ventured outside the victorian house I was staying with my friend, and we walked for a while, then took a bus to Circular Quay and saw the skyline and Opera house shining in the night.
I was struck by its beauty, yet I thought it reminded me of New York. Only when we went to The Rocks I saw the difference. There was a red phone box in the street leading to the Harbour Bridge. The small cafés were cozy and served porridge and scones. And the old warehouses by the sea reminded me of the docks in London. Sydney was a perfect combination of American and British culture, with a personality of its own. And I fell in love with it.
For weeks, Sydney was home. I explored every suburb, I went shopping in the supermarkets, I took trains and buses, I took planes (and felt a thrill of happiness in landing back in Sydney), I went to school, met new people, cooked and ate out. I wasn’t homesick, not even once. So what’s happened one year later, when I had a chance to move there for a longer period?
I can’t really explain what made me so scared of going back. I will never know what would have happened IF. The truth is, we can make all the lists we want, consider all the pros and cons, but in the end we should follow out guts without thinking too much. When we stand in front of a mountain, there are two options: the first is thinking of all the obstacles we would meet if we started to climb, which leads us to give up.
The second is seeing only the road that goes up, and starting to walk. It is our heart that decides for us. If we really want what’s beyond that mountain, we will see the road. So, no, there isn’t another choice… but only because we wouldn’t even consider standing still and not reaching for the top. The Habour Bridge stands as a symbol for me. We can cross the bridge and see what’s on the other side, or just stay still and think, think, until we get lost in the maze of our thoughts.