I remember multiple occasions when my mother-in-law said that she would never move to Phoenix even though her two sons and their families lived there—Colorado was her home, and she didn’t like the heat in Phoenix.

But then my father-in-law died. They had been inseparable for nearly 30 years, best friends and life partners who loved visiting her kids in Phoenix…us in Connecticut…and my husband’s siblings in California. We all made frequent visits to Denver as well, so it all worked…until it didn’t.

After my father-in-law died, Denver didn’t look the same nor did it provide the same support for her anymore. My mother-in-law had a number of friends in Denver and family two hours south, but her heart was broken and this was not going to be enough of a support system on a day-to-day basis to help her rebuild her life as a widow.

A few months after the funeral, she returned from a visit to Phoenix and declared that she had purchased a house there…but she would live there only in the winter months. Fast-forward two-and-a-half years, and aside from missing her husband every minute of every day, she is thriving, living close to her sons and their families, and with a large group of friends in her neighborhood. I just visited her there this past weekend. I got to spend spent time with my “siblings” and met mom’s warm and welcoming group of friends. She is busier and more social than I have seen her in decades.

We all shudder to think of what her life would be like now if she had stuck to her guns and refused to move to Phoenix.

Another example of never saying “never”: When I met my husband, he was “never“ getting married or having children. Thirty-two years and two children later, thank goodness he didn’t die on his sword for that presumption. 

I frequently coach young people on the importance of keeping options open in life. The better they do in school, the more options for careers. The more activities they try when young, the more chances they have to discover their passions. The more job interviews they go on, the more they learn about the career path they want to choose. Options…options…options.

But drawing a line in the sand and insisting that you will never do something hurts only you. It’s the proverbial “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

Imagine where we would be if our Founding Fathers believed that we could never be free of Britain’s rule…or people laughed at President Kennedy and insisted that we would never be able to put a man on the moon…or Reagan and Gorbachev couldn’t see that it was time for the “forever” Berlin Wall to come down

I recently started watching the PBS-TV series Downton Abbey. I had to find out what all the hype was about. Among other things, the show is a continuous exercise in breaking down the “nevers” of the British aristocracy. A child would never marry a commoner…the family would never dress casually for dinner…the lord’s land would never be self-sustaining financially…his lordship’s daughters would never hold jobs. These may seem like small, silly examples, but across the seasons of the program (I am currently in season four out of six), the family has had to loosen its rules and change its outlooks toward assorted laws of behavior to accommodate a changing social structure. We can’t move forward from behind the wall of “never.”

Taking unwavering positions can have its benefits certainly. Commitment to a goal and life values help guide a life—Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr.…all figures who were never going to stop until the world was a more loving, equitable place. Their “nevers” were in support of their higher mission and vision. Too often, in our daily lives, we have “nevers” that limit our growth—I can never stop smoking or give up ice cream…I can never change careers…I can never find the perfect love mate…I can never leave an unhappy marriage.

I have a silly personal rule—I will never visit places in the world that require special vaccines or medications. I say that now but if a loved one had traveled to one of those places and was in need of assistance, I would be first in line to do what I needed to get there.

Live by your principles. Understand your values. But beware of the false limitations you lock yourself into by never being open to the possibilities of another solution.