You Do Have a Choice–and it’s Yours

“I didn’t have a choice.” It’s something I hear all the time, particularly in TV shows and on Facebook, as a shrug to the inevitable. Yet the person then makes some sort of choice.

Image from

Image from

We all have choices all the time. Good choices, not-so-good choices, really bad choices. All ours to own. All ours to make, evaluate and love. Or correct. Even if you think, “the other thing isn’t really a choice,” the other choice is a thing to reject, and that makes choosing easier. Without a bad choice, there can’t be a good choice.

Owning your choice is another important step. For the past week, I haven’t walked. Walking conflicted with early-morning classes, and my stalling in getting out of the house. Big mistake. If I don’t walk early, I don’t walk. Life begins to whiz by, calls need to be answered, and walking gets pushed later and later until it’s the time of day where I’m too tired to walk. That’s a choice I make.

Choice is based on priority–what is important, what is on deadline, what needs to be done. The choice you make today may not be the same one as tomorrow. That’s fine. Situations change. But even between a rock and a hard place, there is a choice. Don’t hand your choice over with a shrug and a helpless feeling. Even a bad choice is a learning experience worth living through.

–Quinn McDonald is going back to walking. Her brains seem to be connected to her feet.



Cleaning out Your Life

Thirty-seven boxes. That’s how many packing boxes are still in the garage from the last move, five years ago. We downsized and those boxes just didn’t fit in the house. Without knowing what was in them, I stashed them in the garage.

Monogrammed handkerchief, with hemstitching and crochet. Made my my mother for her trousseau. It is all hand work.

Monogrammed handkerchief, with hemstitching and crochet. Made my my mother for her trousseau. It is all hand work.

And now, it’s time to go through them and have a garage sale. I thought it would be a tedious, even boring task. It is not. It is a weird time warp, a reminder of the difficulty of a move (those last three boxes that are stuffed with a box of crackers, two silver forks and your passport) as well as the Solomon-like decision I have to make on what to keep and what to throw out or put up for the garage sale.

The beads were easy. I no longer do silver work or beadwork, so the 20 pounds of beads and silver findings will go out in the garage sale. (Attention Phoenix beaders–we are talking every imaginable kind of bead from seed bead to antique. December 7. Mark your calendars).

Vessel necklace, silver and glass cabochon, with removable lid. From my days as a silversmith.

Vessel necklace, silver and glass cabochon, with removable lid. From my days as a silversmith.

Much harder were vases that were long-ago wedding gifts from relatives that I don’t remember.  Candlesticks my mother thought important enough to take up space in the two crates they were allowed when they left Europe, but are worn bare to the copper beneath the silverplating.

What I do remember is cleaning out my mother’s house, and working in one room for eight hours, clearing out quilting fabric and yarn. At the end of eight hours we discovered a couch, which gradually became visible with more fabric removal. I don’t want First Born to ever have to do that. So I’m sifting.

Sorting your past is a feeling that gives you vertigo. I run across jury photos of work I did when I was a silversmith. I will never make jewelry again, but the creative restlessness visible in the pieces are still in my work.

The decision to shed my collection of rocks may be silly. Who wants a box of rocks–just because I picked them up in China, Australia, Paris and Singapore? My collection of soft drink bottles with foreign labels? All of them will belong to someone else. With the sure knowledge that if they are not sold on garage sale day, they aren’t coming into the house again.

So the decisions are tough–either make room for it by getting rid of something else, or get rid of it. Shedding your life. It’s not all bad. I don’t have to maintain it. I get to learn fun skills–I often wrapped rubber bands around one leg of a pair of jewelyy pliers to give my fingers traction. Who knew that rubber bands melt in Phoenix’s insane heat? And who knew I’d figure out how to get melted rubber band off a tool handle?

The first people thought snakes were magic because they shed their skin. There may be some good re-birth in shedding a past life.

-Quinn McDonald is cleaning out her garage. The task is daunting.


Hating Change: Hate the Wind

Change causes us to break out in a sweat. We react to change with procrastination, with fear, with stubbornness. It doesn’t matter how we react, change is driven by time, and change happens unexpectedly. Fast. Unnervingly fast. Hating change is like hating the wind–it doesn’t care that you hate it; it still blows.

The instand of change: you are traveling 65 mph, you can see, the weather is good. Suddenly your windshield smashes in, glass flies throughout the car, you can't see. Change. Did you notice the image of the bird in the middle of the impact zone? It's not what hit the windshield, it's what you see in it.

What makes change so awful? Most of my clients answer, “it’s the unknown next-step portion of change I hate,” but I don’t think so. When I ask a coaching client to give me an example, they tell me about feeling excruciatingly emotionally unprepared. Awkward. Not up to the task of facing change. Feeling not ready is the inevitable companion to change. So is feeling awkward, ungainly, not suited for the task. What makes change so awful is the lack of adjustment time. No time to prepare the perfect reply. No chance to look chic and unsurprised. Change catches you by surprise, with your shoes untied and not ready to run.

Change throws us into a formal party while we are still wearing our emotional play clothes. Suddenly, what seemed appropriate for the emotional playground doesn’t fit into the serious polished-shoe environment we find ourselves in. We are caught off-guard. And off-guard,  without time to plan, we make bad decisions.

My coaching practice is rooted in helping people survive change. Then thrive with it. But it’s not easy, and there can be a lot of tears first. Change is not always a friend.

When change whips around us, it’s a windstorm of confusion, decisions, and often paperwork—all within a tight deadline. You get laid off, and must choose a generous package with a non-disclosure signature or no package and a sense of righteousness. A loved one is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, the kind that destroys plans, futures, whole families. What decisions are right? What decisions are right now?

The second part of change we hate is the fast decision making. We make decisions that are based in fear, and then see days and months of self-blame stretch in front of us. When loss is a choice, we make decisions that buffer the loss, and watch anger flood in, because we settled for less than we wanted because we had to decide quickly.

Change doesn’t always mean bad news, but even good change can look like bad news. Teaching clients to deal with change often starts with learning how to stay calm. Harder than it sounds. But once you’ve learned that, you can see change as a tool, not as a result. And that gives you the power to build.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who helps people survive change and thrive in a changing time. Write her at QuinnCreative @yahoo. com to find out how she can help. [Close up the spaces to make the email address work.]

Rise Up

There are small moments in your life–tiny decisions that don’t mean anything. Unless they mean everything. There are good reasons for choosing either direction. To be quiet and let someone else do the pitch that turns the decision one way. To step forward, command the attention yourself, to rise up and make the pitch that turns the decision the other way.

How important is the outcome to you? You don’t know  yet. All you know is that you can rise up or step back. You think about it overnight.

The earth heaves forward and you see the place where the sun will polish a hole in the sky.
You are the creator, this is your doing. You can call up the dawn, or you can step into the shadow.

"Genesis" Pitt Pen on watercolor paper. © Q. McDonald

In minutes, you choose either to step into the rising light and cast a shadow, falling in front of you or wait until the sun is in your face, your shadow falling behind you.

You wonder if this creation is good, will sell, will become viral and make you a success, famous, a celebrity, rich beyond belief. You aren’t sure you care.

So you ask your committee to speak up–the inner critic and the other voices of reason you’ve cultivated for your sensibilities.

The “Devil’s Advocate” who warns about the thing you haven’t thought of yet.
The Critic who says the public wants it smooth and cool, and you feel hot and sweaty.
The Marketer who says your portraits aren’t of pretty people, they are raw and ugly.
The Expert who says that people don’t like  hard edgy words now, they want it soft and easy.

You love this work, this scooping out of meaning from the thump of your heart.
You love it, but your  Committee seems to know. Who is right? Who knows enough to advise you?

Sun pushes up the dawn. It’s time to know. Either you or your shadow will step into the shoes that leave deep marks and walk across the face of the earth.
This is no one else’s decision.
This is yours to know.
This is your creation.
For this one heartbeat, you are the Creator.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and art journaler who wonders about life. She’s changing her mind about her word for the year. She loves “wonder” but she is going bigger and choosing “Step Up.”

No Decisions Based on Fear

About the time I left the corporate world, I had to make some big decisions. How to run my business. What my core principles would be. I decided to use the same principles I use for my personal life. When you own the business, it looks a lot like you anyway.

Some of the values were easy to choose: Be honest. Be fair. Ask before you spend the client’s money. Don’t jump to conclusions. Listen.

Then came the giant one: no fear. Do not make business decisions out of fear. Don’t make any decision out of fear.

It’s hard to keep that one. I had made business decisions based in fear for a long time–fear of my boss, fear of not meeting the team goals, fear of the competition, fear of getting fired. And it was that fear that made me a lousy corporate employee. So, on my own, I decided–no fear.

There are plenty of things to be afraid of when you own your business–not making a profit, getting underbid, outperformed and over cautious. But fear was the big “Aha!” in my business life.images3.jpeg

A decision based on fear is frequently loaded with other weak motives. Revenge, neediness, lack of control. If you take fear off the table, you get a different picture.

“What if my competition underbids me?” Became “How much do I need to earn to make a fair profit and do the job well?” If it costs me $10,000 to do the job, and I underbid on purpose and then get the job for $8,000, I am not getting an $8,000 job, I’m losing $2,000. That’s fear.

“I hate Client X, she’s always blaming me for her own mistakes.” I can choose
to work with Client X and be clear on responsibilities or I can pass on the job. But if I continue to let her blame me for her own mistakes, I’m letting fear make my decisions. At the end of the job, she’ll either blame me anyway or I won’t respect myself for taking on blame that isn’t mine.

Fear undermines us. It justifies bad behavior. It is the road to the collapse of self-respect. I can’t live my life without fear, but there are a million great reasons to make decisions and always one lousy one–I did it because I was scared.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. (c) 2009 All rights reserved.

Grace Under Pressure

The hard part of the move is over. The van is loaded, the extra van is loaded too and the gift of lessons has been presented.

What’s a “gift of lessons”? Life often takes interesting, unexpected twists. They are generally not fun. If we learn quickly from them, we can adjust and move ahead. If we fight the lesson, refuse to see it, insist it isn’t there, demand it to go away, it will still be there, but we will be exhausted and miserable.

Figuring out how to navigate those life lessons to get the nourishment and leave the stress is a rare gift. I had one of those gifts yesterday, during the height of the move. We had rented the largest van available. The plan was to load it and use the extra space to move the motorcycles. A friend built a special rack.

When you figure out how much of a van you need, you use calculators that ask for room size, special furniture (gym equipment, big screen TVs) and other bulky items. No calculator ever asks if you have books. They simply assume you have about 10 pounds of books. After giving away hundreds of books, I had hundreds more. Books that make good reading, art books, instruction books. The van filled quickly.

At first I thought it was a matter of deciding what to take and what to leave behind. But it wasn’t. The only choice was to rent another van. That wasn’t in the plan. It was more than I’d budgeted for. In a wonderful flash of understanding, I realized that it didn’t matter what I had planned, the reality was right in front of me–rent another van. The van in the driveway was full, the motorcycles weren’t in it yet, and there was still furniture in the house.

Much as I hated the option, it was the only really workable one. Even after careful pruning, there was too much I owned already loaded in the van. No use beating myself up, no beating myself up for not knowing (how could I have known?), simply quick and direct action–finding an available van and bringing it back. I did it.

And my reward? Less stress. A feeling of making a necessary decision. A feeling of mastery over my emotions. (Want to feel a lack of control? Do a cross-country move.) We can not control the occasional smelly fish-head life tosses at us. But we are in total control of the decision-making process and the reaction we have. We can choose to be angry, yell, make unreasonable demands, engage in attention-grabbing drama.

Or, we can cut the drama, control our emotions and move on. Doesn’t get as much attention, but gets the job done. The American author Ernest Hemingway (whose books are in the van), defined courage as “grace under pressure.” Choosing to make the best decision at hand now is not always easy, but it opens the road ahead for smoother travel.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She is moving cross country with more than 500 books, a husband and three cats. See her work at

The Choice

“Upgrades to your kitchen and bathroom always give you a big return,” the real estate agent said. We looked at our new downsizing house, knowing that the kitchen and bathroom would need to be redone. It was a big expense. But there it was, falling out of the real estate agent’s mouth. Hope in the form of a ROI–return on investment.

Now it is three years later. The agent says, “Upgrades, improvements, it doesn’t make any difference. The only thing that matters is what you can sell it for.” She makes it sound like our house, upgraded and redone, refinished floors and installed crown moulding, is a commodity instead of a lovingly improved home. We sunk so much time, so much work to make it beautiful. And now it doesn’t matter? The time isn’t important? The work makes no difference? I simply don’t understand.

paper bag sketch The person who buys our house moves in and sits down. Maybe adjusts the top-down, bottom-up custom shades. Maybe turns on the super-quiet new dishwasher with no concerns about blowing a fuse, as our house has 200 amps, twice the amount of any of our neighbors. And yet, astonishingly, we keep being told that none of that is important. Only the price is.

It’s as if the greed of bankers and mortgage companies wadded up the American dream of owning a house and chucked it into a paper sack. We are no longer young, we worked all our lives to have a nice home, and we sunk our savings into it.

And now, our choice: sell it far below what it is appraised at, what we paid for it, or live apart, for however long it takes for the economy to come to its senses– me in the Southwest, where my business is starting up, and him in the East, where his business is going so well.

The new reality: If you avoid bankruptcy, you still have to choose a loss of one sort or another. Which reminds me, again, what I remember from the overblown 80s. Greed will suck the light out of a life. Greed never strikes in solitude. It spreads like ink on wet paper. It stains the innocent and guilty alike.

(c) Image and story. Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. 2008.