“What fascinates me – and what serves as a central theme of this book – is why we make the choices we do? What separates us from the world we have and the kind of ethical universe envisioned by someone like Havel? What prompts one person to act so boldly in a moment of crisis and a second to seek shelter in the crowd? Why do some people become stronger in the face of adversity while other quickly lose heart? What separates the bully from the protector? Is it education, spiritual belief, our parents, our friends, the circumstances of our birth, traumatic events, or more likely some combination that spells the difference? More succinctly, do our hopes for the future hinge on a desirable unfolding of external events or some mysterious process within?”
from Prague Winter by Madeleine Albright
I often think about the questions Albright poses. What makes us who we are? How much do our decisions change our path? Would we still come to the same place if we had made different decisions? Have my past choices altered my life indefinitely? Do I really have complete control over the path my life takes? Or do I just control what directly affects me now on a small scale, such as the place I live or the job I have?
For most of my life I have tried desperately to control my circumstances. With much effort I achieved good grades, participated in everything, and pursued a career that I thought would be the best option economically and for my future family. I struggled to be the best, but never made the mark. We are taught that if we wait today, our gratification later will be so much more. I made every choice by this rule. I sacrificed friendships, fun, and sleep for a better life later. Now that I have finished college, I wonder when or if that gratification will come.
I do not regret how hard I worked in high school, yet none of my friendships lasted. I wonder if I should’ve tried harder to stay in touch or if they were ever more than schoolmates and acquaintances. I wonder at how different my life would’ve been if I didn’t transfer home my sophomore year and stayed in Chicago. I probably would’ve joined ROTC and studied psychology or elementary education. I didn’t feel that I had a lot of encouragement in music at Olivet.
If I had started college in Nebraska at UNL or NWU, it would’ve been easier to keep my friendships because most of my friends stayed in Lincoln, but would I have been any happier? In all honesty, I think if I knew then what I know now I would’ve taken as many classes at the community college as I could. I might not have even gone to college knowing how much debt I would be in. Then again, I may have never gotten involved in the Czech community or studied abroad.
It is amazing how one choice can change everything. I followed the yellow brick road and reached the end to find out the Emerald City was not actually as grand or as green as I was told. I could not wear the glasses and continue living in ignorance. Now, I face tough choices that could transform my life, that I am unprepared for, and do not know what or how to decide. Do you think society prepared you?