It’s a challenging time to write about positivity, hope, and personal choice as America is experiencing its darkest period in my lifetime. On the one hand, a pandemic is currently tearing through our country as many people act as if nothing is wrong. On the other hand, the current President refuses to concede an election that he convincingly lost.
The lies and misinformation spread by our President are killing Americans by the tens of thousands and attempting to snuff out American Democracy. Meanwhile, the majority of Republicans are either helping him spread lies or complicity standing by in silence.
Democracy is undergoing an extreme stress test by a President who is willing to break any social norm that does not work in his favor. The President, his lawyers, and his loyal Republican supporters claim they have evidence of voter fraud when speaking in public. Yet, in courts where there are penalties for lying, the President’s lawyers disavow any claims that widespread voter fraud occurred in the election.
The threat to both our health and our Democracy is real. A conversation about personal empowerment and choice seems tone-deaf in this environment.
Part of me is screaming, “Read the room; this is not the time to act like everything is normal. We are experiencing a national crisis on two fronts. I’m just trying to survive the next news cycle, and I do not have time to think about unlimited choice.”
But this is precisely the time to talk about choice. It’s times like this that I need to be reminded that I do have unconstrained choice, even when it feels like I do not. I may not be able to choose all of my circumstances, but I do get to choose how I respond to them.
It is natural to respond to threats from a place of fear, but fear can create a survival mindset that limits our choices for action. Reminding ourselves that we do not have to respond to perceived threats with fear can provide just enough space for us to envision the world that we desire instead of the one we fear may be.
The future is unwritten, and we have a choice in how we approach it. Choose to envision a future life that you look forward to living. Focusing on bringing that world into existence is far more energizing and satisfying than living in fear of what can occur.
You are not stuck with who you are.
We do not get to choose all of our circumstances, but we, and we alone, get to say how we respond to them. We do not have a say in who our parents are or what their beliefs are. We don’t get to pick out our place of birth or our genetic characteristics.
We make decisions about ourselves and the world as we grow up and experience life. We rely upon these decisions to make sense of our environment and to survive within it.
We tell ourselves that we are no specific ways, such as clever or awkward, and we begin to seek evidence that backs up our assertion. Any physical misstep or uncomfortable conversation we have can reinforce our belief that we are awkward.
We relate to ourselves as awkward at our core because we believe that is who we are. We fail to recognize that our awkwardness is likely the result of a choice we made about ourselves. We expect to be clumsy because we lack the confidence to act otherwise.
Conversely, we are clever because we expect to be clever, and we are free and unconstrained in our cleverness.
Not all of our attributes are choices. Millions of people are born with a range of disabilities that they could allow to define them. Dyslexia is a learning disability that can severely impede one’s ability to read.
It would be understandable that someone with dyslexia would avoid pursuing a career that involved a lot of reading. I was surprised to discover the number of famously successful people who refused to allow their dyslexia disability to limit their dreams.
A full list is far too long to include here, but see how many of these names you recognize: Anthony Hopkins, Steven Speilberg, Robin Williams, Keanu Reeves, Harrison Ford, Will Smith, Cher, John Lennon, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Steve Jobs, and Anderson Cooper.
These, and others, prove that your circumstances may impede you, but they do not automatically define you or limit your response to them.
Comparing yourself to others is never a good idea.
If you believe you lack something required to achieve your dreams, you likely got this notion from comparing yourself to other people. One of the most debilitating and disempowering things you can do to yourself is to fall into the comparison trap.
The trap is to believe that someone else has achieved what we desire because that other person has something we lack, be it a set of circumstances or personal traits. When we compare ourselves to other people, we compare our actual selves to some idealized version of another person. The comparison game is always rigged, and it is not rigged at all in our favor.
When we see someone who has accomplished what we desire, we do not see the months, and possibly years, of effort that went into that success. They make success look easy, and we compare their apparent ease to our internal experience of difficulty and struggle.
Comparisons can rob us of the power to choose the actions that will bring about our desired success. If we lack the personal traits or circumstances that others possess, we may try to replicate them instead of taking the actions that matter. Many people achieve success despite their circumstances, and they develop personal traits as a result of their actions that produce their success.
You are perfect just as you are, so choose to start where you are and work to create the future self you desire to become.
Reality can be harsh, but we must accept it.
The world of facts and scientific reality appears to have been discarded from the political discourse over the past four years. When facts do not support the President’s assertions, he and his pundits offer “alternative facts” (lies rebranded as facts). You can justify any failure when you are willing to lie to yourself and others.
What you cannot do is change reality by denying it or lying about it. Being unwilling to accept your circumstances, hoping that a miracle will occur, or believing that positive thinking alone can change your life is a guaranteed way to remain powerless.
The only thing that will impact your situation is action. You can wait around on luck or someone else to fix your undesired situation, or you can go to work on it yourself.
Accepting reality does not mean you have to like it, agree with it, or be resigned about it. However, you can only begin to assess where you are and what actions you must take when you acknowledge reality. I find that my unwillingness to accept reality most often occurs when I resist doing the work required to produce my desired outcome.
Denying reality, for me, is a delay tactic. The faster I accept what is so, the quicker I can begin creating what I would like to be. Choosing reality and action reduces my discomfort, while resisting reality prolongs my suffering.
It feels exciting to be active and creating something that I look forward to experiencing. I feel in control, not of my circumstances, but in my ability to survive them and create happiness for myself. Shaping my future into what I desire is an empowering choice.
Alternatively, denying reality offers a different experience of my life. When I resist my circumstances, I feel victimized, unhappy, and helpless. I complain and hope that someone else will change my circumstances to my liking or that they will disappear like a miracle. Refusing to accept reality is not a pleasant experience.
One reality that can be difficult to accept is that life is neither fair nor equal for all. I was taught at an early age that personal responsibility is an integral part of life. I still agree with that basic notion, but it does not tell the full story of our reality.
We do not all begin life from the same starting line; therefore, we cannot use the concept of personal responsibility as an excuse to ignore people in need. Some people are born into an environment of generational poverty of wealth and education.
They are no less deserving or capable than others born into privilege, and we need to help level the playing field, so everyone has the same opportunities. We must recognize this fact, and together, work to make the world a more fair and equitable place for every person.
We cannot allow the hate speech of those in positions of power to deter us from building a better world. We cannot sit by quietly as our neighbors, both physical and digital, promote ignorant ideologies that suppress others’ rights and freedoms.
Although life is not fair, we cannot use those inequities as an excuse to avoid choosing to take the difficult actions that will produce the results we want.
The choice is ours.
Accidents happen. Illness and disease strike young and old. Bad things happen to good people, and fortune sometimes favors the bad along with the bold.
Sometimes it feels like we must survive life instead of getting to choose how we would like to live it. Fear (and our survival instincts) can prevent us from recognizing all of the possible choices before us. Resisting reality can block us from taking actions that would improve our undesired circumstances.
We must all choose between allowing ourselves to be victimized by our circumstances or taking actions to create a better world than the one we live in today.