In this issue ~~
Did you ever feel that you could have everything you want in life . . . if only you had someone else's life?
We each come into life with a set of circumstances – parents, siblings (or none) and other family; a particular gender, nationality, race and socioeconomic class; certain talents and abilities; a body that looks and acts a certain way; and many other aspects. While there's nothing inherently good or bad in any of this, our culture instills in us judgments about what's preferable. If we're "blessed" with something different, we feel cheated or inadequate.
While our circumstances may create a certain container for our lives, it is our choices that ultimately determine how our lives will play out. Through our choices and our efforts, we can make the most of what we're given, and even surpass what may be expected for us.
The first choice we need to make is to adopt one of two attitudes: to play the victim or to be empowered. Given these options, you might wonder why someone would choose to play the victim. While it may not seem attractive at first glance, being a victim has its payoffs.
As children – when we truly are, in some sense, victims of the adults who have power over us – we comfort ourselves with self-pity. We console ourselves in situations where we're powerless by telling ourselves how they've done us wrong, that we really deserve better. It provides an emotional balm that gives us a sense of control. Over time, feeling sorry for ourselves becomes an emotional habit that we carry into adulthood, where it becomes an excuse for not taking the risk of challenging our circumstances, and the roller coaster ride of feelings that comes with that.
Playing the victim is also a way to avoid taking responsibility for becoming all that you can be. At first glance, pursuing your dreams has a rosy glow that's compelling. But once you dive in and begin taking actions, it can be confronting . . . and a lot of hard work. Much easier to find excuses why you can't – bad day at the office, too busy with the kids, backache, money problems, whatever. We all do this at times.
So, okay, you get it: Being a victim is not the way to get the things you want. So, how do you go about becoming empowered in your life?
To start with the basics, stop comparing your life with others. One thing I've learned through years of observation is that everyone comes into life with challenges. No one gets off scot-free. The catch is, each person has a different set of challenges. While I might envy your ease at making friends, you might wonder how I land jobs so easily. While I might wish I had your wealth, you might crave the freedom and simplicity of my life. The grass may look greener, but every pasture comes with its weeds.
From a spiritual viewpoint, we come into life with certain lessons to learn. Our life circumstances - including our strengths and, yes, our limitations - are the optimal ones for learning those lessons. Some of those lessons will be exhilarating, and some will be miserable. If we can embrace even the tough ones, we can minimize the pain and struggle of going through them. When we don't learn from our experiences, we're doomed to repeat them. By facing them squarely and doing whatever it takes, we can move on to grander experiences.
Many of us are searching for our "life purpose." I'm not sure that that's something we can easily uncover - in my experience, it unfolds over a lifetime. But what we can do is create meaning for our lives. We can take the hand we're dealt and ask, How can I make the most of what I've been given? How can I be a better person? How can I contribute to myself, those close to me and the world? How can I find the courage to pursue what I'm passionate about? When I focus on questions like that, the fact that I wasn't born rich or beautiful, or that I can't draw, or that my parents never encouraged me to get a PhD,, just doesn't matter.
It's in our human nature to always want more – that's how we grow. But it's not about wanting someone else's life. It's about living the life we were given to the max. It's about deciding for ourselves what's really important to us, rather than buying into what our culture tells us we should want. And it's about letting go of the way we *think* things should be and being with what's so.
During his time in concentration camps, psychologist Viktor Frankl discovered that people were able to find hope and dignity by giving meaning to their suffering. How grateful we can be that the circumstances we're dealing with are so much easier than that! Let's not wait until we're in a crisis to appreciate what we have. Let us dedicate ourselves to finding the best in our lives and making the most of our challenges. As the Serenity Prayer so beautifully states:
Make a list of the things you dislike about your life. What can you change? What can you do to come to terms with the things you can't change?
"People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them."
"You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with the best you have to give."
"Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters."
"The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change."
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