Creating the Life We Want


When I think about my life now, where I am and what I’m doing and just generally the state of my existence, it becomes clear to me that I’ve created it. I have very intentionally built for myself the life I want, and at no time is that more apparent than when I think back on my most difficult decisions.

I do believe there are things beyond our control, absolutely. When bad things happen there sometimes truly aren’t any good choices; there are only lesser evils and rocks and hard places. Sometimes there are tragedies. Sometimes there are things we can’t even believe are happening.

I don’t believe in fate. I do believe that sometimes we have to slog through shit to get to sunshine. I do believe that hardship can make us stronger. I do believe that beauty can come from heartbreak. I believe in chance. I believe in chaos. But I also believe in choice.

And choice, at the crux of it, is what allows us to create the life we want.

It can be indescribably difficult sometimes, to follow through with our desires. For me, the main push-back comes from intangible societal pressures. I don’t want to care what others think about me, but holy crap do I ever. I really care. I want people to like me. (Why is that made into such a despicable sentiment? Doesn’t everyone want to be liked?) More importantly, I want people to respect me – or at least accept my choices. The problem, then, arises when what I want isn’t what society wants me to want, and I must overcome that natural instinct and step beyond its draw.

Two decisions stand out to me as the hardest and most life-altering I’ve had to make so far. Without getting into two very long and emotional stories, those were: 1) to graduate early in order to move cities and live with my boyfriend (now husband), and 2) to use the inheritance when my dad died to stay home and write fulltime instead of taking the job offer I received for a position at an advertising agency.

It would be difficult to explain how tortured I was in making those decisions. I had to stand up under the weight of so much societal pressure it’s a wonder I didn’t simply crack. I still have to stand sometimes. How often have people asked me about getting “a real job,” or called me a “stay at home wife”? Even right now; I’ve just deleted 500 words of explanation for each of those choices. I deleted them because I don’t need to justify why I chose what I chose. I shouldn’t need to defend what’s important to me, because it’s my life, not anyone else’s.

I believe in choosing the life we want. I believe in making it happen. Because of that (and more than a little happenstance), today I have a spouse I love, a beautifully healthy relationship, my dream job, and I’m exquisitely happy. So happy it feels almost illegal, like I shouldn’t be allowed this. But I chose it. Yes, some of it was luck. Some of it was chance. Some of it was completely beyond my control. But some of it, my friends, was choice.

Not all choices are so weighty. There are choices that we must re-choose over and over again. Each time I get a rejection for a short story and send it back out, I’m choosing to be a writer. I’m choosing to keep pursuing a goal. I’m constantly creating the life I want. We all are. We can acknowledge things beyond our control, but we can also employ the things that are within our reach. It’s never too late to start, to change, to redesign the structure of your desire and make the choices that fulfill it.

What was the last decision you made to help create the life you want? Is it time to make another?

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  • Patrick Lee Marshall

    Annie, I used to teach sales courses and I always said, “First You Conceive, Then You Believe, Then You Achieve”. I still believe in that simple message, though there may be work needed along the way. And I believe I began to gain more of what I wanted from life when I joined the Denton Poets Assembly.

    • I love that, Patrick! And I especially love how much DPA means to you. It means a lot to me too! I’m so very grateful for whatever chain of events led me to “go once and see how it is.” 🙂

  • goodgravyboat

    Choice is everything…and I love that you do not feel the need to justify your choices. Caring about what other people think or needing them to understand is hugely detrimental to the decision making process. Kudos for you… creating *your* life with the lot you were handed…best thing ever!

    • Well, I do feel the need; I just try to resist it. =)~ You’re right though, that letting that rule us means making choices that aren’t honest to what we truly want. I’m happy to have realized that early enough to work at overcoming it!

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    I love this post, Annie, because it really shows what you are made of: toughness (whether you feel that way about yourself or not). My two toughest decisions: 1) to move away from my family in Pennsylvania all the way across the country to Arizona 2) to quit my well-paying communications director position at a global business school to begin freelancing. Our decisions were similar in many ways: the move to Arizonan resulted in a wonderful husband. The choice to begin freelancing was the direct result of losing my 42-year-old sister in law to breast cancer. I’d always said I wanted to work for myself, and a month after Leigh died, I found myself in front of my boss, saying, “I quit. I want to start a freelance business. What I know now more than ever is that life is too short not to try.” These two choices/decisions probably played the biggest roles in shaping my life. As scary as both were, they were worth the risk.

    • It’s amazing to me how similar our two choices were. I had no idea. Thank you so much for sharing that with me! And congratulations on making the choices that shaped your life in the way you want!

  • Regina Richards

    Two of the most powerful choices I’ve made in multiple situations throughout my life were 1) to forgive so I could be free to move on and 2) to bless-on-their-way-and-release people who were headed down a path I didn’t want to go down, to effectively unchain myself from their influence.

    • Woo, those are biggies. Yes, yes, yes. Forgiveness and letting someone go are incredibly powerful choices that I’ve had to make too, and they are always worth it, even if I’m not always good at choosing them. Thanks, Regina.

  • The Notorious B.E.N.

    This is the part where my ego goes “dude, she’s calling you out on this one.”

  • Julia Munroe Martin

    This is a really important post — especially that we can choose the life we want. In my life the biggest decision I made was to stay home full time (while writing part time) to raise two children. That decision has cascaded through our family’s life in the most positive ways I could ever imagine — for my husband and me and for our children too. That doesn’t (however) mean there were no sacrifices or choices. It was so worth it, but now (with an empty nest) I’m faced with another crossroads. And for me, this has meant making another choice: this time to focus almost-exclusively on fiction. Again, it will require sacrifice and commitment but again, it will be so worth it.

    This is my very long way of saying this: I totally agree with this blog post. You are a wise and thoughtful person, and it’s wonderful to hear about someone living the life they want!

    • Thank you, Julia! I haven’t (yet) had to make a decision about child-rearing, but I know that when I do it will be one of these mega-important, life-changing ones. I think motherhood — and fatherhood, for that matter — is tragically undervalued in our society, and so many “stay at home” moms (part time or full) struggle with stigma and personal values. I’m glad you made the right choice for you and your family! I wish you much success and happiness with your new crossroads as well.

  • Cynthia Robertson

    It IS all about the choices we make, isn’t it? Too bad we
    aren’t taught that more emphatically when we are young. Not sure I believe in
    randomness, though the appearance of chaos is certainly a strong one. But those
    synchronicities that pop up everywhere suggest something more.

    I love the “slog through shit to get to sunshine”.

    I think it’s my new favorite saying.

    • Haha, thanks Cynthia! I think I was taught this when I was young. Maybe not in so many words, but I remember my mom and dad always telling me that I could b anything I wanted to be, and that does impart a powerful sense of options, doesn’t it? I wish all kids felt so empowered!

  • Julie Sondra Decker

    I love this balance you created between choice and unavoidable circumstances. Because I DO feel that the choices I have made which led to my current happiness were MINE and that I deserve credit for them, but I also hate when people who chose, risked, and won condescendingly dictate to others that this is How You Do It. (Especially if they suggest that those who chose, risked, and failed must have just not believed enough or gambled incorrectly.) So thank you so much for acknowledging luck and outside help and circumstances beyond your control! I feel that the risks I took are risks I probably could not have afforded to take if I didn’t have some of the platforms from which to jump that were NOT earned by me. My “create the life you want” decision was to move to a new city without a job because my old job was slowly sucking my soul down a drain (with no end in sight). I found a job that paid what I needed AND left me with enough creative energy to write the way I wanted to. That’s the dream, after all–why keep toiling away at something that’s keeping you alive if the reason you want to be alive isn’t accessible to you because of it? Easy decision, but hard at the same time. I can tell you know what I mean.

    • I know exactly what you mean, and good for you! I’m so glad your risk paid off. Yes, I hate that condescending attitude too, and I think I’d be a fool not to acknowledge that I’ve had privileges and opportunities that many people don’t, and also that I’ve had heartache that wasn’t a result of my own choices. We can’t choose everything, but we can certainly choose some things — hopefully enough to build a life that we can thrive in. Thanks so much for the comment, Julie!

  • Laura Rae Amos

    I am all over this post, Annie! I am fascinated by the choices (sometimes even ones that seem very insignificant at the time) that end up shaping our lives in such a big way. I have so many in my own life. SO MANY. Way more than I’d feel comfortable spamming your blog with or even saying in public! 😮

    But I’ll name one, so not to be totally lame: deciding to “waste” two years of my Accounting degree to switch my major to English. So much money down the drain, and tacked on an extra 1.5 yrs to my undergrad, but I would have been absolutely miserable as an accountant. And now, here I am. I know I made the right decision. I’m still paying off loans, but I’m happy, lol!

    And it’s hard to believe, in some ways, that it’s not fate, if I think about how wildly different my life would be had I not made those exact choices. But then, if I’m making the choices, can I call it fate?

    I actually love that you decided not to justify yours here. Not that I wouldn’t love reading about that, but because I think you’re right. It’s hard not to want to justify yourself though, especially if your decision is at the expense of someone else’s happiness.

    Oh man, this is like the theme of my life, and usually what my books circle around back to in one way or another.

    • It is weird and fascinating, isn’t it? I was talking with a friend the other day about how our choices and the timing of them + things beyond our control can fall together so perfectly that it seems like fate. I still don’t believe in fate, but I do believe in a sort of non-preordained ‘meant to be’… like when all the pieces fit just right and it feels perfect. That’s good stuff. 🙂

      Trust me; I was tempted to justify! I don’t mind discussing my reasoning, etc., but I’m still too defensive to pretend that’s what I’m doing (especially unprompted). I’m totally justifying. Maybe someday the pressure will dissipate or I’ll find more peace/confidence and I’ll be able to explain without feeling that, but for now I’m trying to resist.

      Thank you for sharing your choice! Switching majors is a big deal, especially when you’re already two years into it like that. I’m so glad you chose what led you to where you are now! And even more glad that you’re happy!

  • Ernesto Miguel

    You posted what I’ve been longing to scream for awhile. You profoundly posted what in short I say, “FTW!” And I don’t mean “For The Win” either. Cheers!

  • Yes to all of this. There are a lot of ways, large and small, that we choose to live. I’ve made some large choices — the decision to get married, and the decision to quit my job — but the smaller ones are just as crucial. The decision to write when I don’t feel like it, or to go out with friends when I think I only want to stay in, or even to eat that extra cookie. It all adds up to make the life I have now, the life I want.

    • Those small ones add up over time, don’t they? The decision not to work out, for example (I’m very guilty of that one) is a small one day to day, but over time it can add up to the force of a large decision — to be unhealthy. Ouch. I’m going to the gym today, lol.

  • I’m so glad you were brave enough and smart enough to delete your explanations. It IS your life and you don’t owe anyone anything. I’m so glad you’ve made your life a happy one. That’s the most important thing. 🙂

  • Diann

    What a wonderful post. In particular I have to call out:

    “I don’t believe in fate. I do believe that sometimes we have to slog
    through shit to get to sunshine. I do believe that hardship can make us
    stronger. I do believe that beauty can come from heartbreak. I believe
    in chance. I believe in chaos. But I also believe in choice.”

  • Natalia Sylvester

    Yes to all this, Annie. This is going to come off as harsh, but I believe there are people who make choices, and people who make excuses. We all face hardships, some more than others of course, but for every person who blames the bad in life on things that have happened to them, there’s someone else out there who’s been through worse and has chosen to pull themselves out of it and create something better. I feel very lucky that I knew early on in my life what I wanted. I stepped out of a promising career in magazines to pursue fiction and freelancing, and though I’m all too familiar with the “stay at home wife” comments and then “oh, where you sleeping?” assumptions, I’ve never for a second regretted it. On days when it got tough, I would tell myself that I had to create the life I wanted to live, and I still do that every day. It’s the most empowering thing we can every do.

    • I think that’s true. I do think there are some people who have nearly insurmountable odds, though, especially those who are born into horrible circumstances. But by and large, we can all make choices that make our lives better. Excuses are occasionally valid, but rarely helpful, you know? They explain, but they don’t move us forward. I’m 100% with you on the assumptions. Oh man, the “since you’re home anyway…” openers… But yes, I never regret it. Empowering indeed.

  • KerryAnnMorgan

    Thank you. I needed this today. This life I want is still a WIP, and I doubt it every day. Not what I want, but my ability to achieve it. I made a choice to put my (non-writing) career on hold to stay at home with my kid. Now he’s too old to need me full-time, but I’m still home, focused on my writing. Each rejection leave me doubting my choices and sends me to the ‘help wanted’ ads. I feel like each day I must reaffirm my choice so I can keep going.

    Ditto on the “slogging through shit to get to sunshine.” Brilliant. Thanks again.

    • I love the idea of life being a work in progress. That just speaks right to my writerly little heart. 🙂 Yes, I like to think of it as choosing again. Not just sticking with it, but actually choosing to keep doing this. (Same goes for relationships!) Good for you, for pursuing what you love. And thank you for the comment.

  • Lori Parker

    Just a minute ago, I sent an email to a well-meaning friend turning down a possible job lead. Why? Because I am a “writer.” I’m drafting my first novel and, yes, we’re broke, but I chose to keep at it. Thank for you this!

    • You’re welcome! You know what they say about good intentions. I’m sure your friend just doesn’t yet understand your commitment. If you keep at it long enough, most people will come around. Good luck, Lori!

  • Peggy

    Beautiful post, Annie! The quote by Mary Oliver is one of my favorites, and the post is full of wisdom hard earned at a young age and eloquently expressed.

  • jclementwall

    Oh how I love this post! YES! I feel the same way. I feel happy and unbelievably fortunate most of the time. When I falter it is most often because I’m worried what others will think, when I believe my choices will be judged (usually according to how much those choices have added to my bank account), It’s so refreshing to hear you stand resolutely in the aftermath of the choices that you’ve made so far and say, “I’m happy.”

    So many people with “real jobs” can’t say that. xo

    • Yes, it’s amazing to me how much value people place on having jobs that make money, even if the jobs make them so miserable they can’t enjoy the money. Pretty backwards, eh? Thanks so much, j!

  • That is very insightful about having to re-chose all the time. I never thought about it that. We have keep choosing to do things that lead to the life we want and keep choosing NOT to do things that get in the way. (This is why I canceled netflix.)

    “More importantly, I want people to respect me – or at least accept my choices.” I suffer from that too .. . and its why I often find myself constantly explaining myself to others. (Pointless and silly to do.) It’s as if I think that if could just get someone to just say, “Oh, now I get why you _____” then that would be some sort of magic blessing on all my decisions. In reality it’s very hard to change someone’s mind. For example, I keep getting “thanks for following me” notes on Twitter no matter how I preach. 😉 (Thought you’d appreciate that silly, but true example.)

    • Haha! Preach. I do appreciate it, and the Netflix one too. The choosing not to do something is a good point, though. I’m reading Stephen King right now so of course my mind is on addiction, and it makes me think of a recovering addict/alcoholic having to choose *not* to do (whatever) every day. That applies to us all, though. Choosing not to eat junk food, choosing not to say rude things, not to DM new followers… etc. 😉

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  • Marialena Carr

    What a fabulous post! A few years back, when I was doing my yoga teacher training, it really hit me that we cannot do *everything*. Every choice closes a door. We can do an awful lot of things, but not necessarily at the same time. So I made a hard choice. I’m still not sure it was the right one (anxiety and self-doubt, anyone? 🙂 ), but this post is a great reminder that hard choices are hard for a reason. It’s beautiful to hear that you’re “so happy it feels almost illegal.” Love it!! Thanks, Annie!

    • Hi Marialena! Thanks so much for stopping by. That’s a great insight, that choosing one thing often blocks off another. I think that’s actually the difficult part about those decisions for me — not choosing what I want but letting go of what I’ll have to sacrifice to get there. What a powerful thought.

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  • Laurie Beth Brown

    I love this post. Thank you!

  • A. B. Davis

    As always, Ms. Neugebauer, this post was an inspiration to me. Especially the part about constantly choosing to be a writer. I feel a bit like a broken record saying it (and your other fans and commenters are probably wondering why I never contribute anything else to the discussion but) thank you for sharing your heart-felt insight.

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  • Katy

    Last time I made this kind of decision was late spring. I had these two friends who used to be well, nice. Fun. Eventually, however, they changed. They were in the wrong kind of crowd, and I wasn’t like that. We were growing apart, they were getting meaner, and I was getting sick of it. We had been friends for four years, but I was done. We no longer speak. Four months later, looking back on it now, I realize I miss them. Not ‘them’ per se, just the side of them only I saw. They were never directly mean to me, just to other people, in fact, occasionally, they would even stick up for me. Once they got around their other friends, they were this totally different person. That’s the side I could no longer be friends with. But the people that I was friends with laughed with me, and watched Netflix with me, and hugged me when I had a crap day. That’s the person I miss.

    • I’m so sorry, Katy. Losing friendships is one of the hardest things to deal with, even though sometimes it’s necessary and even healthier. I still miss some of my closest friends from high school and it’s been a decade since I’ve known them. But of course then we make new friends who fill similar but not quite the same spots in our hearts, and everything moves on and gets better. I’m sure in the long run you’ll be a happier person for it. <3

  • Jordan

    Beautiful and truer words I have rarely read. You should be very proud of yourself, your knowledge and personal wisdom shines through very easily in your writing. As effortlessly as beams of sunlight softly fall through keyholes. Keep living your dream and making those tough decisions. You are doing something a lot of people never find the nerve to do.. being your realest truest self and allowing your gifts and abilities to become keys to success, happiness, and fruition of life in general. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful experience and perspective with the class!

    • What an incredibly sweet comment! Thank you so much, Jordan! You’ve made my day. 🙂

  • Classicroyal

    I’ve always been a dreamer of dreams. Sometimes certain dreams have taken years to come to pass, some not so long, some fall off the list because my focus shifts to another goal/dream. Yes, there are people out there who say I’m flying high like a kite and they need to keep me reeled in…I guess sometimes that’s ok, but I know that dreaming and moving toward achieving those dreams gives me hope and keeps me going. I can only be who I am and it’s good to know that I can continue to create who I am everyday!

    • Absolutely. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming high. There’s an expression that says “Aim small, miss small” that seems relevant. The idea is that if you aim for a target and miss, you’re off the board, but if you aim for the bulls-eye and miss, you’re still on the target. So aim high/big/precisely and you end up closer to your dreams, even if not right in the bulls-eye every time. 🙂