“We are our choices.” ~Seneca

chooseEvery one of us can harken back to some pivotal event in our past, likely in early childhood, that determined the trajectory of our life. From that moment, everything turned and faced a certain direction, a direction that we have looked in ever since.

It might have been something dramatic, it could have been tragic, or it could have been unnoticeable by all the other participants in the event even as it engraved our path.

My event was the day that Grampa told the 4-year-old me that I was left-handed. I loved my Grampa and I had a happy childhood. I had already been told this fact by other loving people in my life so it wasn’t really news.

What was new was what I now for the first time realized, and the choice I now felt I had to make.

It wasn’t like he told me I was German. Pretty much everybody I knew was German (even though we all lived in Wisconsin). It wasn’t like he enlightened me that I was a boy. Lots of kids I knew were boys.

This time I had a shocking realization: I was left-handed and most everyone else was not.

Mommy wasn’t left-handed and neither was Daddy. My sister wasn’t, my cousins weren’t, and Gramma wasn’t. Only me and Grampa and an aunt were left-handed. The whole rest of the world, apparently, was not.

My first thought was this revelation meant I was a weirdo, an oddball, an outcast. That filled me with a terror I had never before experienced. But a second thought was hot on its tail: I am special, gifted, unique. And then it happened, a voice in my head commanded: Choose!

I chose Door #2.

I didn’t have a “reason” to choose it. It was among my choices, so I picked it.

I was hardly equipped at four years of age to make such an important selection with no guidance from anyone. But because I didn’t say anything out loud about the battle in my own head, no one even knew I had this brief but epic struggle followed by such a monumental choice.

Truth be told, I was four. I had no words for such esoteric philosophizing.

From that point forward, I chose the unique, the special and the “road less traveled by” almost by default. I had to consciously decide to be “normal,” an effort I often failed to make, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering mother.

Unique (or weird or quirky or what have you) quickly became normal to me. I didn’t go out of my way to antagonize others with it. In fact, it was more likely that they would antagonize me. But as far as I was concerned it was my very essence, so I never did see how outside pressure could change that.

That was almost fifty years ago, so I have had a chance to discuss this topic with wise and experienced people since then. It is noteworthy that people usually assume out loud that I made the “right” choice. After all, it has made me into the man I am today and I am quite satisfied with who I am to date.

But it wasn’t the right choice. Neither was it the wrong choice. It was just a choice.

What if I had gone down the first path? As a result I might have made large efforts to fit in. That might have made me a good team player and eventually a great team leader.

It could have made me a proponent and protector of the rules that govern our society. That could have lead to a passion for law or government.

The point is that I still had a choice to be the best possible me on whatever path I was on. My choice made me be a bit rebellious and open. Believe me, those traits can be a minefield and I stepped on more than my share.

Still, I am contented where the left-hand road has taken me. I don’t imagine I can even see where the right-hand road would have led me by now. I would like to think it would be somewhere equally satisfying. After all, I know a bunch of happy righties and I could be right among them.

Perception is a powerful force, even in the hands of a little kid. I made a choice and it pulsed out like a wave throughout my whole life. It touched areas of my life that hadn’t even come into existence yet: romance and fatherhood, career and spirituality.

These perceptions weren’t The Truth; they were just how I saw things. We get to have our own perceptions. They are real enough to have a real impact in our lives. Others had to come to terms with my perceptions too.

It swings both ways of course. I had to accept that the world saw right-handedness as “normal” and had another class for me. Sometimes, I had to give in. For instance, I learned to sharpen my pencils with my right hand.

But I batted left-handed and I wrote left-handed and I waved left-handed. In short, I did what I could when I could.

“You get to choose.” click to tweet

There is no point regretting the choices of a four-year-old because of this important point: I am still able to make choices today. In fact, I could choose to start doing everything right-handed even at this late date. Maybe I will. After all, it is still my choice.

What did you learn? Tell us about it by commenting below.

Photo credit: WuJS

We Get to Choose: How Our Perceptions Shape Our Lives
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