The Devil Made Me Do It. Why We Always Have A Choice.

As some of you may already be aware, there are two movies that really resonate with me from a philosophical perspective. One of these is The Matrix and the other? The Devil Wears Prada  (TDWP). The concept of choice is a fundamental theme that runs through these two movies and anyone watching them would be hard pressed to not consider what that might mean in their own lives. It certainly did for me and still does. 

Although I’ve spoken about The Matrix here and here, let me explain how TDWP speaks to the choices we have as we go about our daily lives. 

About the movie.

The main character, Andrea (aka “Andy”, played by Anne Hathaway) reluctantly accepts a job as second assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), Editor-in-Chief of Runway Magazine, a job that “a million girls would die for”.  She accepts this job with the understanding that, assuming she survives for a year, it will open doors for her to land the job she really wants: becoming a reputable journalist.

Within days, Andy’s job becomes all-consuming. Her days are long, she must answer her phone at all hours of the day and night, and the office rules are strict beyond belief. And her boss, Miranda, is, in her words “vicious”.

You sold your soul to the devil when you put on your first pair of Jimmy Choo’s, I saw it.
— Emily, Miranda’s first assistant

Within weeks, Andy also feels the pressure to look the part, transforming herself from the wearer of unfortunate outfits she picked out of casual corner bins to a full-out-Chanel-and Prada-sporting Runway girl.  

Let me know when your whole life goes up in smoke. Means it’s time for a promotion.
— Nigel, one of Andy’s co-workers

Her ever-increasing responsibility creep has her missing out on more of what she values most: time with her boyfriend, time with her friends and time with her parents. It also makes her late for all her other personal social outings and interests…if she makes it to them at all.

You used to make fun of the Runway girls, now you’re one of them!
— Nate, Andy's boyfriend [to Andy]

"You know, in case you were wondering - the person whose calls you always take? That's the relationship you're in. I hope you two are very happy together." - Nate to Andy as she accepts yet another call from Miranda.

Throughout her transformation from passionate writer to hollow-but-great-looking second assistant, Andy repeatedly hears from her friends that she has a choice. That every time she goes to work, picks up her cellphone, chooses her clothing, spends another late night away from those she cares about, and even when she stabs a co-worker in the back, she's making a choice. And, for Andy, the choice becomes easier to make the more time and effort she has expended in this “job from hell”. Each incremental loss of personal ground becomes easier to bear, each simply building on the previous one.

In the end, Andy pays the ultimate price. She becomes estranged from her long-time boyfriend, loses touch with her friends and, walks away from the potential promotion, finding the price just too high. The trigger? Watching those she admires in the fashion world lose everything they care about in order to chase the power and the money.

It all hit too close to home.

The first time I watched TDWP, I wept. It hit a place within me that was still raw from an experience I'd lived a few years prior. I’d been Andy. I’d worked for “Miranda” and I was still licking my wounds from the experience. The most difficult to admit is that, just like Andy, I’d made choices that were not in line with my values. And seeing that truth on the big screen hurt like hell and it still gives me pause when I think back on it. 

Worse, I even relapsed and made another poor work decision that got me into a similar mess. Luckily, I recovered from that one much faster, given an improved ability to notice the signs and, most importantly, the encouragement and counsel of a supportive partner.

The devil made me do it…

Just like Andy, we make choices on a daily basis. We choose to:

  • Go to work.
  • Be happy.
  • Be miserable. 
  • Eat on the go.
  • Have an affair. 
  • Sleep too little. 
  • Drink too much.
  • Lose our temper.
  • Treat others poorly. 
  • Look the other way.
  • Give up vacation time.
  • Not pay our bills on time.
  • Hurt others to get ahead.
  • Break someone’s heart. 
  • Let others treat us poorly.
  • Choose "stuff" over people.
  • Accept a promotion or avoid a demotion. 
  • Neglect our responsibilities to do for others.
  • Overcommit in ways that will hurt our health.
  • Work long hours at the expense of what matters.
  • Be late for an engagement in order to do “just one more thing”.
  • Get ourselves into debt and/or spend a large part of our income to “look the part”.
  • Drop everything at a moment’s notice because work beckons and we all know the “go getters” get the promotions.

Ultimately, no one can “make” us do anything. What we may not want is to suffer the consequences of the choice(s) we are making, but that doesn’t remove the fact that every decision, and subsequent decision(s) that build on a path already chosen, is a choice. Every. Single. Time.

But choice is freeing…Isn’t it?

Then why is it that we prefer not to acknowledge the fact that we have choice? Because with it comes a great deal of responsibility. It means that we have a hand in everything that happens in our lives. It means that we have to accept the good and the bad that we bring about (aka “the consequences”). It means that we have to be clear with ourselves and with others what our boundaries are and stop leaving it to others to determine them for us. 

It’s a scary idea, this concept of choice. That’s why we routinely remove it from our lives:

  • With the use of words and expressions such as “I can’t” or “I don’t have the time”.
  • By accepting obligations that remove the need for us to decide how we would prefer to spend out time.
  • By overcommitting, thereby removing any opportunity to think/reflect, because we’re “too busy”.
  • By spending our money carelessly so that we reduce our range of options for living differently.
  • By living pay cheque to pay cheque, or beyond our means, to seal the “master/slave” relationship with our employer.
  • By mindlessly going about what we’re “supposed to do” in life without questioning whether or not that’s really who we are and what we want to do or be.
  • By succumbing to social pressure to “do the right thing”, to fall in line.
  • With our acceptance of cultural norms and beliefs.

I certainly won’t say that I’ve conquered the poor decision-making streaks that get me in trouble from time to time. But I’m definitely more aware and less tolerant of it.

As a friend of mine recently said to me, “it’s a journey”. It certainly is. And we make it our own, one decision at a time.

How do you live your life? In full grasp of the choices you make every day, or as your own version of Andy? Either way, I’d love to hear from you.

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