I remember the moment: the first time that I chose myself.
It was a subtle, silent shift that dawned a remarkable realization in my mind: “Why not me?”
The moment that my inner narrator asked that question for the first time is still burned in my brain, although some of the details surrounding it are hazy. It was either late seventh grade or early eighth grade. I was either 13 or 14 years old. And although I remember the exact place where the question was raised — the front lawn between my Rhode Island private school’s office building and the cafeteria — I can’t remember if I was walking from one direction or the other.
Maybe I don’t remember because those details never really mattered.
The announcement was made by our teachers a few hours earlier that our class would be holding an election for class representatives for the following year.
I think it was the eighth grade, now that I think about it. And the election was held that year for the next semester’s start.
Positions included secretary, treasurer, vice-president and class president.
I didn’t give the announcement thought.
As a kid, I grew up more quiet and in the background than front and center. I hated standing before the class for any reason, and avoided being called out by teachers like it was the plague. So I never overachieved and avoided receiving kudos, acclaim or awards. I also never acted up or lashed out — I was pretty much as straight-lace as possible — to avoid unwanted attention from teachers’ reprimands.
Attention felt gross. I simply didn’t like it.
And throughout my years in schooling, I always floated right in the middle ground. B+ grades. A friend but not the popular kid. Quiet but not the outcast.
But by this age of around 14, on a walk to or from one spot to the other, on a green patch of grass between my school’s admissions offices and cafeteria, thinking about that announcement for class elections, I asked a question I don’t remember ever asking before that: “Why not me?”
And from that one choice, an addiction was born.
An addiction to the power of choice and a reverence for all of the decisions we make and avoid; the ones we choose without realizing it, the ones we choose when we think we’re not choosing, the ones we choose when there’s no other choice before us.
The power of choice has become a major part of my life. Like scratched paintings of animals and early humans from mashed berries on cave walls, exploring and understanding and explaining this vast power of choice became my first priority as a writer. And as a quiet leader.
From that one decision, a world more followed. I did get elected class president that year, and was a class leader for the remaining three years of high school. The background defenseman of the high school lacrosse team became co-captain; the Opinions Section columnist of the college newspaper became co-Editor-in-Chief.
I never liked the limelight. I still don’t.
That’s what you don’t understand until you make that first choice — the moment you decide to choose yourself, because in this life, that’s the only person you really can choose at all.
This blog, this writing, these books, I don’t pretend like the world depends on them. I don’t make believe that they’re life and death decisions. Like being class president of a small private school’s 40-student class when I was 14, it doesn’t matter one little bit — I don’t expect anyone, especially you, to give the slightest god damn about it.
I just keep choosing because I know I have to.
Once you choose, you can’t stop. That’s what makes the power of choice so daunting. So terrifying. The choice isn’t a fleeting decision without repercussions — it’s a lifelong commitment. One of responsibility and endless second-guessing. One of fear-mongering brought on by social pressure and the endless reality of being misunderstood, judged, criticized — and having to rise above.
When you stop choosing, the choice you’re making is death. It’s quitting. Giving up. Self-enslavement to the pressures of the world — self-enslavement to the pressures you perceive, interpret… hell, the pressures you choose.
You might as well turn up your wrists and present them for cuffs to your captor. Being free from shackles means nothing if you’re not choosing yourself every step of the way.
When you stop choosing yourself, you relinquish the only power you ever have in this life — the power of choice that reigns supreme and forever untouched in the space between your ears.
So, maybe this is a bit of a different message from what you expect to see these days.
You expect to see the rah-rah and inspiring . You expect to hear that choosing yourself is beautiful and remarkable and hooray and yay for you! Then you think, “If that’s the case, why isn’t everyone doing this?”
It’s because choosing is hard. It’s really fucking tough. Often gut-wrenching. Never black-and-white. Seldom clear, reaffirming or reassuring. You have to go on instinct. On trust.
Because you chose once, and couldn’t stop choosing.
Sometimes you choose by accident — and your life is never the same. Sometimes you choose because you know you have to from that point forward, even though your choices are constantly challenging what feels natural, normal and comfortable — that B+ lifestyle of floating in the middle ground, seldom noticed and rarely ever called out.
I’m calling you out.
If you’re reading this, perhaps this moment is due to become your Why Not Me? moment.
I won’t lie and tell you what it’s all for. Destiny? Fate? Something God-given? Purpose realized?
Maybe it’s just because we can.
Why not you?