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You Don't Have To

Dariann is a student at Indiana Wesleyan University majoring in Human Services. She's married, has two kids, and two cats.

From the time you are born, you begin your journey towards choice.

For a while, choices are made for you, as you are incapable of doing so for yourself. But as you grow older, choice becomes more and more prevalent in your life. You choose what you like, what you dislike, what excites you, what bores you. You choose when to take your first steps, to speak your first words, what toys to play with. And, inevitably, as you grow older, the choices become more and more difficult, more and more challenging. As these choices increase in complexity, you look to those you love and trust to guide you. And each time we look to those that we trust, we learn. We pay attention to their patience, their understanding, their willingness to give us choice. We crave an explanation as to why things are the way they are, what that choice means, how it affects us. And as we learn, we grow.

Growing up, I had two separate households. My parents divorced when I was very young, and having them separate was all I ever knew. Each household had its own set of rules and its own standards for choice. It was incredibly confusing, and each time I came back from visits with my dad, who favored freedom, I had to revert to the strict lifestyle my mother procured. This often was not an easy transition and typically resulted in what my mother would call “being a brat,” and my father would call curiosity and having fun. Most choices were made for me by my mother, even if I disagreed with them, while my father always made sure to include me and what I wanted to do. This brightened my curiosity, and I asked so many questions, thirsting for knowledge of why certain choices resulted in their outcomes and why some choices were better to make than others, even if I disagreed with them.

This was when my father began educating me on how it was always going to be easier to make bad choices than it would be to make good ones, but the difference was that the good ones made other people happier and would make me happy as well. His patience with my young, overly excited mind, his understanding of how best to communicate information to me, and his openness to give me the freedom of choice is what made me thrive in challenging, innovating, and difficult experiences as I was introduced to them. It began a thirst for knowledge, wisdom, and understanding in myself and those around me as I grew older.

There's a memory I have that has always stood out to me.

Even in my adult years, I cherish and look back on it frequently. It only enhances my stance on why choice is so important. My father and I, on one of our weekends together, decided to go to a karaoke event for the very first time at a fire station that I believe may have been hosting a fundraiser of some sort, or hosting a party; I don’t remember exactly, but I remember going. It was going to be my very first time on a stage, my very first time going up to sing for a crowd of people, but my dad thought it would be something fun for us to do, and I trusted him. Every other time we had gone to do something together, I had a blast, so why would this time be different?

On our way there, he explained what stage fright was and how I might experience it when I went up to sing my first song. Of course, being the strong-willed little girl I was, I assured him I would not have that, and I’d do just fine on my own. I brushed off the information, strode confidently into the fire station, picked my first song to sing, and waited. My dad said nothing, just waited, smiling at my antics and excitement. When the time came, my name was called, and I rushed up to the stage, which was really just a cleared spot on the linoleum floor, held the microphone in hand, and as the song began to start, and the words came across the screen, I froze.

Panic rose in my chest like a tidal wave as I looked around at all the people staring expectantly at me. I felt tears well up in my eyes, and my grip on the microphone began to slip. The sharp echo of the microphone hitting the floor jolted me out of my panicked state, and I ran back to the safety of the table where my dad sat, calm and smiling. What he said next changed how I would deal with every failure I have ever encountered since that day. With positivity and understanding emanating from his voice, he said to me,

“It’s okay to have stage fright. That’s why I tried to explain it to you before you went on. I had it, too, the first time I sang. There’s nothing wrong with that. Take your time, and if you want to try again, you can go up whenever you’re ready. It’s okay. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.”

Let me repreat, "You don't have to if you don't want to."

I instantly felt the tears subside as I realized I would not be forced to do anything I did not want to do. I was being given a choice. I could be brave and try again, as my dad did. Or, if it was too much for me, I did not have to. I was being given as much time as I needed to take a break, gather myself, and come to a decision, and even then, I wasn’t even being forced to decide at all. We had gone there to have fun, after all. And if running around and playing with the other kids is how I chose to spend my time, he was just happy that I could do so. And at that young age, if I remember right, somewhere around 6 or 7, it registered with me that I always had a choice.

Since that day, I have spent time with every decision to figure out if it was something I actually wanted to do or if it was something being forced upon me--and I was only entertaining it for the benefit of the person requesting me to do it. Living my life in this way has brought me to my present-day life, where I’m in a loving marriage. I spend my free time writing, crafting, baking, and learning, all of which my husband endlessly supports and constantly tells me how proud he is of everything I accomplish. And I believe I chose him as a partner because he shared some of the same qualities I came to love in my own father. My very first role model. The person who taught me how I should be loved, treated, and respected not only as a human being but as a person. The patience, understanding, and freedom of choice that I was shown from such a young age, clear into adulthood, has shaped me into what I believe to be the best version of myself that I ever could have become. I still strive for better accomplishments, new ideas, further education; but who I am at my core, my very center, my very soul, is all thanks to the simple act of being given a choice by someone who taught me the right and wrong ways to make those choices, how they affected those around me. And how, ultimately, to live my life for good.

© 2020 Dariann Gretz