Knowing the Decision is Right

My fourteen-year-old car died last week. Literally. I was driving 70 mph on the interstate to meet my friends for bookclub and talking to a friend in Charlotte on the phone. I heard something go “zshuuu” and then lights popped on all over my dash and I realized I had no power. Steering was tough. Gas didn’t make it go. Fortunately, I checked and realized at least I had my brakes.

Bye Bye friend. It's been a great 14 years!
Bye Bye friend. It’s been a great 14 years!

“My car just died,” I told my friend. I wasn’t alarmed. I wasn’t scared. I simply stated it like I might tell her I was heading to the library. It simply was.

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“I mean it just died. I have nothing.” I think I may have even laughed.

“Oh no, are you OK? Do you need me to call 911?”

“Nah, I’m going downhill now, so I’m just going to coast and see if I can make it to my exit.” I didn’t. I did made it to the shoulder safely, hung up with my friend and then a string of events unfurled where my bookclub friends came to my rescue. I had the car towed to a reliable mechanic I trust who pronounced the vehicle DOA. And then I had to figure out what car to buy. Fortunately, I had done my research months ago. Unfortunately, I had never finally decided between two vehicles – the Hyundai Sonata or the Kia Optima.

This is not going to turn into a car review. Plenty of other bloggers do that. This is about making decisions and the difficulty in doing that because I’ve always watched my decision-making with astonishment. Sometimes the biggest decisions are relatively easy to make and the smallest decisions are the ones that are agonizing. Why is that?

For example, it wasn’t difficult to decide to put Catherine in surgery to correct her spine. And it wasn’t difficult to choose the surgeon. And even when she “crashed” in the OR and we had to go back in five days later to finish the job, the decision to do it, wasn’t difficult at all. Of course it was scary. The actual decision didn’t create much stress; the results of the decision created lots of stress.

So back to the car. Why was it so agonizing to think about these two cars and decide between the two of them? The reality was that the decision basically broke down like this: The Optima is more fun to drive and “fits” me better – seats are more comfortable, size felt good around me. There isn’t much room in the back seat, though and visiilbity is more limited. The Sonata has astounding visibility and more features like cruise assist and lane-departure warning and is bigger, with lots of room in the back seat. In fact, it felt really big. I felt like I was swimming in it.

I realized over time that the decision reduced down to what I wanted deep in my soul vs. what I perceived to be the smart or practical thing to do. I had started my car search months ago looking for a car that was “fun to drive.” My word of the year is ENJOY and I wanted to live into that word. The practical analysis kept getting in the way.

I found myself saying to Brian, “There’s no way I could get Catherine in the backseat of the Optima and it wouldn’t be a problem in the Sonata.” I was framing my decision in the world of her disability – even when her disability didn’t need to be a factor in this particular decision.

Brian reminded me that we have a van and I would be driving this car mostly by myself and that Catherine is probably big enough to sit in the front seat in an emergency. In hindsight, I think something in that freed me to make the decision I wanted to make – the one that felt selfish and less practical – the one that enabled me to enjoy. I went to test-drive them yet again, and as soon as I saw it, I knew what I wanted this time. I wanted the Optima. And suddenly, I felt calm about it. Sure, stress remains in how I’ll negotiate and where we’ll buy the car and all of those details. The decision, itself, though, is made. And like I said, I feel calm.

I’m learning to understand that when the decision is still filled with anxiety and swirl, when my mind is bouncing back and forth and up and down and not even beginning to approach anything even remotely calm, I’m not ready to decide. And so I shouldn’t. If I can learn to trust the process and ride that swirl like a rapid in the middle of the river, maybe I could enjoy the decision process more. The secret is to be watchful for the calm. And learn to choose the things I enjoy.

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