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My Struggle with Decision-Making and My Quest for ‘More’
‘Called Out’ columnist Kaitlyn McQuin explores the paralyzing action of making decisions and her unending need for ‘more’
I’ve been in therapy for a year and three months, and I still walk into each session hoping my therapist will have an answer for me, despite knowing that is just not how it works. This week, I needed to know what it meant to want ‘more’ and how to decide what to do about it. When it comes to decision-making, I kind of suck, and because I’m so fearful of making the ‘wrong’ choice, oftentimes I don’t even choose at all.
Something I’ve learned is that avoiding making a decision for fear of failing is failing, and living in the outcome of our decisions just is. But I still have questions.
Because I’m so fearful of making the ‘wrong’ choice, oftentimes I don’t even choose at all
Since I moved back to my hometown in 2019, I’ve questioned everything from if moving home was the best choice, if I should change careers (again), and whether or not I should settle down here or if I’ll even live here forever. I’m comfortable here. I’m happy here. My friends and family are here. I can get anywhere in the city without a GPS. That’s amazing! Exciting! What joy! But isn’t there more?
‘More’ is a word that was brought to my attention one Friday night not too long ago as I sipped an old-fashioned across from a friend I hadn’t seen in twelve years. As we caught up on past relationships, old memories, and the ins and outs of our careers, we both admitted that, to put it simply, we want more. More than our hometowns could provide, more success, more, well, more everything.
He did ask at one point: “What is more exactly?” After laughing at the absurdity of both of us wanting something we can’t even define, I admitted that I didn’t have an answer for it. Or maybe I did, but I just couldn’t decide if it was sufficient. In truth, I’m not sure if wanting more is a burning desire to be the best I can be, or if it’s an act of selfishness meant to prove my worth to those around me. The jury is still out on that one. But what I do know is that in admitting I want more, and my desire for more being validated by him, I did feel seen, and I did feel heard. And that, well… that felt like more. And I didn’t even have to leave my hometown to find it.
I’m not sure if wanting more is a burning desire to be the best I can be, or if it’s an act of selfishness meant to prove my worth to those around me
The idea of ‘more’ consumed me for the following week, so I did what I always do when my brain is searching for an answer I simply don’t have: I took it to my therapist so she could decide. Again, not how it works, but I tried.
“Okay. You said you want more,” she said. “More of what?”
“Everything,” I said. “Like, more… more success. Am I supposed to live in another city where I have to use my GPS all of the time? Being lost is good, right? Uncomfortable. We want that. No, comfort is good. Is it? Do I need to grow more? Do I need more life experience and more adventure? Should I book a hike? Nature will help. Wait, do you book hikes, or do you just go?”
There was silence for a moment—several moments—as she processed my frantic energy.
“I’m curious,” she said. “If we could replace the word ‘more’ with something else?” I squinted my eyes. She noticed, so she explained what she meant. “It seems like that word is causing you a lot of stress, and it’s stress you’re putting entirely on yourself. The stress is coming from you.”
“Oh no. The call is coming from inside the house,” I said.
We both laughed. I said nothing. She reminded me of her question, which I secretly hoped to dodge.
“Uh,” I sat there for a minute, unsure of what to say.
“Not this,” I said.
“Not this,” she repeated.
“Yes. Not this… but this instead. Those are the words I’d like to replace ‘more’.”
“Okay,” she said. She began to write in her notebook, presumably the notebook where she keeps a handwritten copy of my trauma timeline that I made for her before my very first session. My reasoning behind this was to “expedite the introduction process so we can dive right in.” It was a typical move on my part; I was trying to control my own therapy session’s outcome.
I came across ‘not this, but this instead’ one night while reading Glennon Doyle’s ‘Untamed’. I stopped immediately, highlighted it in my Kindle, and even added a note. ‘Not this, but this instead’ felt similar to ‘more’ in that what is before us simply isn’t right and there’s something else. ‘It’ isn’t enough. But the difference is that ‘not this, but this instead’ is more concrete. It’s easier to choose, presumably because we have two distinct choices before us, as opposed to an elusive ‘more’. And for those of us with decision-making issues, sometimes we desperately need our options to be narrowed down. I know I do. You should see me holding a menu in a bar and being asked, “What can I get you?” The panic. The stress. The options. It’s madness.
“What are you saying ‘not this’ to?” she asked. “And what are you saying ‘but this instead’ to?”
A question that will require me to make a decision. Okay, okay, I got this.
“I’m saying ‘not this’ to staying where I live forever. And I’m saying ‘but this instead’ to opening myself up for life to delight me.”
Wow, you did it.
“That’s what I choose. That’s my choice. I have decided.”
My therapist smiled. I love when that happens. It feels like a victory, as if whatever I said was what I should have said, though I know that isn’t necessarily true. Whatever my response would have been, it would have garnered a reaction on her end. An outcome. And whatever that reaction would have been would be the truth. Sometimes it’s this—a smile—and sometimes it’s this instead. But whatever it is, we accept it, and we move on.
“How did that feel for you,” she asked. “To say ‘I have decided’?”
“It felt like a relief,” I said. “To just pick something and go with it and not worry about the fear too much.”
“And what have you learned about yourself in the moments of your life that have caused fear?”
I make it out alive.
“I… make it out alive.”
One of my biggest fears is failure, or making the wrong choice that leads to total ruin. I blame this entirely on allowing others to decide for me for most of my life and viewing each decision as high stakes. So high stakes that I need an outside opinion on how to best navigate my life. But total ruin after making a decision hasn’t happened yet. Not in my adulthood with me steering my own ship. It hasn’t happened, and it won’t. But total ruin is happening now where I’m currently living in the in-between of this and that. And it is not fun here. I have decided that it is not fun, and it sucks very much.
There is no failure in what we choose. But there is failure in standing still and choosing not to move forward because you’re afraid of the outcome. It’s taken me 29 years, cocktails with an old friend, a week-long debate on the word ‘more’, and a therapy session to come to this conclusion. But I’m happy I’m here now. I’m happy I learned this now. I’m happy there was more to discover about myself, and I’m happy to know that I can choose and not fall apart.
Because no matter the outcome, I’ll make it through. I’ll make it out alive.
I’m still shit at decision-making. I’ve been waffling between the perfect throw blanket for my bed for months. But at least I’m aware that life won’t crumble into a million pieces when I decide, and I won’t fail. It will only crumble and I will only fail if I never do decide. So, go forth and make decisions. Whatever happens, happens. And as long as things are happening, you’re moving forward.
And if you’re moving forward, you’re winning.
If you’re moving forward, you’re practicing, “Not this, but this instead.”
If you’re moving forward, you’re getting more. And you didn’t even have to find it. It found you.