top of page

How Our Choices Shape Our Lives

Where have your choices led you in life? Dorothy Greco leads us along her own very personal path of choosing.


How Our Choices Shape Our Lives

Dorothy Littell Greco

I recently read journalist Mary Louise Kelly’s memoir titled, It. Goes. So. Fast., which caused me to reflect on how the choices I've made over the past forty years have shaped my life. In the middle of the memoir, where she recounts her trip to the Ukraine just before the war officially began, it hits me. I could have written a similar book (instead of the ones I’ve written about marriage) had I made different choices.

I’ve been working as a professional photographer for almost forty years. While in my twenties each assignment that I shot for a top publication increased my ambition. I was steadily moving toward my goal of taking photos for The National Geographic.

But then, a non-profit reached out and asked if I would be willing to sign on for a year. I said yes. Shortly before my departure date, one of Boston’s major dailies invited me to interview for a staff position. They too offered me a job. After several weeks of agonizing about my options, I turned them down and honored my initial commitment. (The woman the paper went on to hire, who is a friend, still holds that job thirty-five years later. She is an exceptional photographer. I both respect and envy her.) An offer of this caliber never came around to me again.

“We lose things and then we choose things.”*

After my year of making photos in six different countries, I returned home. I then said yes to a remarkable man who has been by my side for thirty-two years. (Hence the marriage books.) We chose to become parents.

I continued to chase my professional dreams but the cost seemed to escalate month by month. I stretched, and stretched, and stretched some more, trying to stay relevant, keep up with my peers, and mother my boys.

Around the time our second son turned two, he began to wake up screaming as if someone was inserting nails between his toes. He refused comfort. Sleep evaded us. We felt like (and probably were) horrible parents. Photography no longer felt quite so innervating. I felt pulled toward home.

In that same year, two memorable assignments influenced me to make a different choice regarding my career, that set me on a different path. Two male subjects (famous in their own fields) directed unwarranted ire and frustration towards me during their sessions. Their edginess was understandable given that one man’s wife had recently died, and the other’s recently left him. The second time, after being verbally abused in a public setting, I drove home and walked up the stairs to our apartment in tears. My toddler offered me his beloved binky and a lispy litany of why he loved me. That mundane moment brought clarity to my choices.

I cannot have it all. I cannot be a world-class photojournalist and a loving, present parent. I’m not suggesting that others can’t do this well but based on my limitations and peculiarities, it was beyond me. I realized that though there are photojournalists who can produce the caliber of photos that I do, there’s no one else who can (or who wants to) mother my sons. The proverbial die had been cast.

We choose things and then we lose things.

We decided to have another child, and then surprisingly, to teach our sons at home. I continued to shoot, but mostly on the sidelines. Unlike Kelly, I am not anchoring a national news show, so I had the freedom to watch my sons play soccer. And basketball. And baseball, possibly the most tedious sport to watch as there’s no clock involved.

I don’t regret my choices. And yet …

When I think back to the jobs that my husband and I said no to so that we might remain rooted in one place, offer our sons stability, and support our aging parents, I do sometimes wonder how different my life might have been. I wonder about what my career might have been. The countries I might have visited. The stories I might have told. The prestigious awards I might have won. (The 401K I might have had!)

Even though we made different choices, I recognize that as moms, both Mary Louise Kelly and I are vulnerable to guilt and holding ourselves to impossible standards. It’s almost second nature for us to make highlight reels of our perceived failures and then constantly re-watch them while giving ourselves harsh performance reviews.

The older I get, the more I long to abandon that narrative. I want this for my sisters too. I want us to extend more grace and compassion to ourselves—and each other. To trust that though we have, and will continue to make mistakes, most of us are good-enough parents and our sons and daughters will find their way.

When we’re in our twenties and thirties, we can’t see far enough ahead to understand where our yeses and nos will take us. Our youthful dreams and aspirations rarely play out the way we imagine. Just read Joseph’s story in the Old Testament book of Genesis. His literal dreams did come true, but the cost was exorbitant. Forty years ago, I could not have predicted how challenging, disappointing, fulfilling, exhausting, meaningful, and yes, average, my life would be.

My third act is well underway. My choices seem much more consequential now. The stakes are higher. More people depend on me. I’m writing the narrative in real time and to be honest, I’m not sure how it’s going to end. But I’m believing, in faith, that there will be joy. And hope. And lots and lots of yeses.


* From Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George.

This article first appeared in Dorothy Littell Greco’s newsletter. Used with permission. Click here to subscribe to her newsletter.

Dorothy Littell Greco is a photographer and writer. Dorothy is the author of Making Marriage Beautiful and Marriage in the Middle. She lives outside Boston with her husband of 32 years. You can also follow her on Instagram or X. Connect with her on her website and subscribe to her newsletter.



bottom of page