Rules for Intrepid Living: Rule #43

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Rule #43. Not deciding *IS* deciding.

I’ve always lived in the Midwest, where I grew up surrounded by cornfields. Cornfields, and a fair amount of deer. As a teenager driving in central Illinois, I quickly learned that sometimes deer will run out into the middle of the road, then freeze in your headlights.

You may have heard the expression.

But this is a real thing, not just a clever saying. Deer will freeze in your headlights, which can lead to catastrophe. All they need to do is run to the left or the right, but they don’t.

I have no doubt that there are evolutionary reasons why deer freeze in headlights, so I’ll try not to be too hard on them. But evolutionary responses or not, the deer doesn’t actively choose to remove itself from the road, and thus passively makes the decision to remain in the vehicle’s trajectory. Ultimately that decision can (and often does) lead to the deer’s death. Perhaps our white-tailed friends cannot comprehend the balance of active and passive decision-making, but we as humans can.

Thusly, we can and should come to understand that not deciding IS deciding.

There are a number of reasons that we put off making decisions. Some of them are valid; we need to do research, acquire funding, check our schedules, or compare options. These are all sound steps to take in the decision-making process. Often, however, we allow these steps to stretch out until the decision is made for us, which is the same as making a passive decision. Why do we do this? Insecurity, procrastination, laziness? These are all factors that I know have had an effect on my choices in the past, but I think the biggest reason people don’t make decisions is the fear of missing out. Because if you do a particular thing at a certain place and time, you’re not able to do something else, and what if that ends up being better? If you take a certain job in a certain city, it makes it very difficult to take a different job across the country. What if that second job is better? If you commit to a monogamous relationship, you can’t continue to date other people, and what if your dream man/woman walks into your life?

My mother has a term for this kind of thinking; “What-iffing.” Young Wade was notorious for it, and I still struggle with it to this day. And conceivably, it could happen. Another event, a different job, or a new relationship might be better than the one you previously selected.

But if you what-if yourself into not making a decision, you are actually making the decision to not pursue any of the above. By not choosing, you are passively deciding against whatever options are currently available to you.

Of course, it’s perfectly reasonable to decide against going to a party, to not accept a job, or to stay single. There is nothing wrong with those decisions, so long as you’re actually making the decision. Don’t just let opportunities slide by you because you’re going to passively decide against them. Your “what-ifs” and fears of missing out are unlikely to manifest. Even if they should, there are few decisions that can’t be unmade should you really need to.

Make active decisions, not passive ones. Don’t wait for the circumstances to determine what you’re going to do. Be the captain of your own destiny. Will you make bad decisions this way? Of course, but that’s part of life. Sure, you may look back and wish you chose differently, but you’ll never look back and wish you hadn’t chosen at all. Because when you do that, you’re just a passive observer in your life, freezing at the decision that is headed towards you.

Don’t be the deer in the headlights; remember, not deciding IS deciding.

“Rules for Intrepid Living” is a weekly post giving guidelines for how we can all live a bit more of an intrepid life.


3 thoughts on “Rules for Intrepid Living: Rule #43

  1. Alex

    In Jamaica, we call not deciding “iffing and butting”, which is kind of close to your mom’s terminology.

    My mom has been talking about this a lot lately, as it relates to the elections. A lot of people dislike one candidate and don’t trust the other, and so decide not to vote at all. Mom’s strategy is they should vote against the lesser of the two evils then, by voting for their rival.

    Reply
    1. Wade

      I’d never heard “iffing and butting” but I like it!

      I can understand why some people would prefer not to vote; sometimes it does seem to be a question of picking the lesser of two evils. But regardless of who one chooses to vote for, I do think it’s important to make the decision and cast the vote.

      Some people might disagree, but not voting is just deciding to let someone else pick for you.

      Reply
      1. Alex

        Yes, I totally agree that not voting is allowing other people to decide. When people complain about politics that’s the first thing I ask them. Did you vote? If they couldn’t that’s one thing but if they chose not, they have no one to blame but themselves…

        Reply

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