A few years ago I decided to join my Homeowners Association Board. It seemed like a great idea.
If you’re unfamiliar with the HOA, it’s a group of people living in the same housing community who meet regularly to create/monitor the rules we live by. Simple right?
For those who’ve been there, you probably know where this is going. HOAs can just get nutty. It turns out that messing with people’s personal property can sometimes bring out the worst in them.
And so, after a few months of tedious board meetings, passive aggressive conversations and emails where everyone loved that “reply all” button”, I came to one, undeniable fact.
I hated it.
“I hate it,” I told my friend at lunch, whining about this situation I’d gotten myself into. She let me go on for a bit before cutting me off and asking me why I didn’t just quit the board.
I laughed sarcastically. “There’s no way”, I said. “I just committed to this a few months ago…
“I don’t want my neighbors to think I’m a quitter…
“And anyway, I told them I’d stay for the year…”
I looked at her sadly and sighed. “I’m just stuck in this for a while.”
Her response? “You’ve been complaining about this for months. It makes you miserable. You might think you’re trapped but the truth is you’re really not. You’ve got a choice here.”
I got ready to protest, thinking she just didn’t get it. But then I shut up…and realized she was right.
I did have a choice. Quitting was an option. Yes, there would be consequences. But the choice was mine.
And so I quit. And some people felt let down. And some people were hurt. But in the end, I had taken control of my life. And it was just a bit better as a result.
We do this to ourselves all the time…we believe we are trapped in a situation that is uncomfortable, that might even make us miserable.
- We stay in jobs we hate because the pay is good and our retirement benefits kick in soon
- We stay in unhappy relationships because we don’t want to mess up our family dynamics
- We spend valuable Saturdays lunching with friends we don’t like because we’ve done it since college and we don’t want to hurt the group
We eat restaurant meals that come out differently than we thought…display ugly statues gifted from others…and continue with our PTA well after the kids move on…because we believe we must.
We trudge through life, through situations that make us unhappy…and we tell ourselves we have no choice in the matter.
But here’s the simple truth: we do.
There’s almost always another option. It just comes with consequences.
These consequences can be very real. Sometime they are significant. Often times they include hurt feelings, letting people down, feeling irresponsible. Sometimes we’ll have less money, have to move, be rejected from a group.
The consequences must always be considered. But they do not trap us.
We just believe they do.
Great leaders know that life is about taking risks and making choices. They know that the way they spend every second of every day is up to them, really.
They know that they won’t love every part of life, but that when one of those parts makes them (and those around them) unhappy, that the time has come to make a choice.
They know it’s not about can’t in these situations. It’s about making a decision to continue on or not.
So why do we allow ourselves to feel trapped?
- Because change itself is scary
- Because the consequences are too overwhelming to even consider
- Because at least we know how things will go in this situation…the other is uncertain
Because, the situation just hasn’t become bad enough to justify choosing another option and turning things on their head for a bit.
And let’s get real…sometimes the consequences of the other choice really aren’t worth it. I’m not saying they are. I’m just saying you have a choice.
When you are unhappy, when you think you’re trapped, when you play the victim because you have no way out of something…think again.
This week… I encourage you to think again:
- About a part of your life that seems to be going nowhere
- About a situation that makes you continually unhappy
- About a constant in your life…that might not need to be so constant
What are the consequences if you make a different choice?
Start by asking yourself the question.
Start by knowing this simple truth: you have a choice.
Maybe, if you realize you can go a different way, then you will choose to do so.
And maybe you’ll be a bit happier. Because, really, being happy is what life is all about.
And, in the end, that’s what makes you better at the things you do choose to do with it.
Now, go do good…and do it well.