How a sandwich changed my life, or: Why we avoid making big decisions

You know the mistrust of heights is the mistrust of self, you don’t know whether you’re going to jump.

Janet Fitch, White Oleander

The other day, I was spreading mayonnaise on a slice of wheat when I realized something: Sometimes you have to jump.

Nearly everyone (except maybe very, very rich people) has something that makes us unhappy. An unfulfilling job, stale relationship, strained family dynamic. If it has bothered us for a long time, we may convince ourselves that The Thing is unchangeable. Some people even go so far as to say The Thing is this way for a reason.

This way, we avoid doing anything about it. We stay comfortable in our discontent.

In my life, one such issue has bothered me daily for months. Every day I’ve tried to calm myself by saying that The Thing is “this way” for “those reasons,” and I just have to deal with it. (It didn’t make me any happier though.) The other day, I was talking to myself while packing my lunch. I picked up a slice of my homemade wheat bread and plopped some mayonnaise on it.

“It’s going to be this way for awhile,” I said. (Yes, I talk to myself out loud.) “I can’t do anything about it right now.” I dipped my knife into the mustard, lifted it out—

And stopped. I was lecturing myself. I hadn’t given myself permission to make a conscious decision. I hadn’t allowed myself to climb up and see whether I would jump.

As I stood there, mustard dripping onto the table, I started a different conversation.

“What if I stopped telling myself what to think?”

I dipped my knife into the mustard again. “I would say: then it won’t be this way anymore. I’m going to change it.” I finished packing my sandwich and went to work. As I bit into the sandwich at lunchtime, I realized that the only reason why my life hadn’t changed was because I hadn’t changed it. And very soon, that’s what I’m going to do. 

Sometimes the best thing to do is jump–I’m about to do it myself. Best sandwich I ever made.

As Harriet Lerner put it:

It is not fear that stops you from doing the brave and true thing in your daily life. Rather, the problem is avoidance. You want to feel comfortable so you avoid doing or saying the thing that will evoke fear and other difficult emotions. Avoidance will make you feel less vulnerable in the short run, but it will never make you less afraid.

PS – I’d love to get an email if you have had this experience.