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Last week one of my clients told me that she never felt she could control her own destiny. In her mind, life events happened without any influence from her. One of the reasons was that she grew up without financial stability, so she created a story of how only people ‘with money’ had choices. It turns out that my client went to college, worked in government for many years and is now in the private sector in a leadership position.
For the external observer, my client escaped her circumstances and broke the cycle of financial instability. Statistically speaking, she would not have gone to college, she would have a minimum wage job, and would have been deemed to repeat the cycle. Still, she cannot see the choices she has in front of her. Even the ones she made, like going to college, felt to her as if someone else was choosing on her behalf.
At some point in our lives, we have felt completely powerless. For some of us, this feeling is a temporary one driven by specific events. For others, it is the story we created either learned from the adults around us or as a form of self-preservation.
Two well-known authors on the power of choice are Dr. Viktor Frankl and Dr. Edith Eger, both holocaust survivors and authors of multiple books. Both talk about their experience in the concentration camps and their observations about the prisoners who survived not only physically but most importantly psychologically.
In her book The Choice Dr. Eger writes when we feel we have no control over our circumstances, when we believe that nothing we do can alleviate our suffering or improve our lives, we stop taking action on our own behalf because we believe there is no point.
I recognize that Dr. Eger and Dr. Frankl lives and events are extraordinary and most of us (at least on this side of the world) have not experienced anything remotely close. This idea is what keeps me grounded to think ‘if both (and others who did not publish their own experience) decided they had a choice in a circumstance where we really struggle to see it, then I, of course, have millions of choices.’
I also appreciate that many of us still feel that our choices are extremely limited if not nonexistent. We may have a very high commitment to meet someone else’s expectations (mainly from our families).
Some of us, like my client, may think that we do not have enough money to truly have choices like leaving our job to pursue our passion. And others may think that they cannot bring their entire self to all aspects of life including work because of the fear of ‘not belonging’.
“Destiny is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of choice: it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” Unknown
What can we do to start shifting our mindset and taking control of our own destiny? We could start by reflecting on these four questions.
1) What do you want?
I am the first to admit that every time I receive this question I struggle. My whole body goes into stress mode because I do not like saying ‘I don’t know’. Dr. Eger writes the problem – and the foundation of our persistent suffering – is the belief that discomfort, mistakes, disappointment signal something about our worth. This is exactly how I feel. Because I am uncomfortable with the question and the response, I immediately link the uneasiness with my worth.
Something similar happened with my client. When I asked her, ‘what do you want?’ she could only give me the cookie-cutter response related to her work goals. She felt that because she had limited choices there was no point in even articulating what she wanted.
I am learning to be comfortable with having the answer to this question as a work in progress. At this moment, I discovered that I want to spend more of my time in moments of flow, I want to share and curate knowledge, and I want to fulfill my mission as a coach.
“Everything you want is out there waiting for you to ask. Everything you want also wants you.” Unknown
2) Who wants it?
This is a loaded question and our struggle: to understand our own expectations for ourselves vs. trying to live up to others’ expectations of us.
For some people, this could become an impossible choice: do I pursue my own happiness at the cost of damaging the relationship with my family? Or do I meet their expectations (at least now) and renounce to or delay my own happiness?
This is a question that even when we can answer it, we may not always choose what is best for us.
The awareness I want to bring is that there is always a choice. I will repeat. There is always a choice. And with each choice there is a result. What is the result that you want to have at this moment?
“To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself. And to trust that there is enough, that you are enough.” Edith Eger
3) What are you going to do about it?
There are two possible answers for this question in the present moment: nothing or something. Very few things in life are so black and white; I think this is one of them.
We can discover the answers in questions 1 and 2 and we can decide to do absolutely nothing about it. And doing nothing is a choice.
We could also decide to do something, to take some action even if a small step, towards what we want or what others want for us. And doing something is also a choice.
“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” Rabindranath Tagore
4) When are you going to start?
Like the previous question, there are two possible answers to this one: now or later. Some of you may be thinking, what about ‘never’? Well, never means that we would not take any action ever, which is starting inaction now.
As we increase our self-awareness, access our intuition, and fine tune our gut feeling, we will come to understand the timing for things. Sometimes it is better to do nothing now and revisit later. Other times we want to start action now to see how things go.
“Everything can be taken from a person but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor Frankl
The biggest obstacles we all face live within us. They limit our ability to see the choices in front of us. As long as we are alive, we are always choosing: to act or to stand still, to take responsibility or to blame others, to focus on the present or to relive the past or worry about the future, to take risks or to stay safe.
We can choose to go through life fixing what is broken, pushing our feelings to the very bottom of our being, and constantly proving ourselves. Or we can choose to be fully alive knowing that we are a work in progress constantly learning and improving, that feelings are not fatal and only temporary, and to accept and love ourselves for who we really are: human, imperfect, and whole.
What are your answers to the questions in the post? Do you think you have the power to choose? Please, let us know in the comments. You can write in English, Spanish, Portuguese or French.
My mission is to help women transform their inner voice from critic to champion, so they can confidently realize and fulfill their potential achieving what they want most for themselves, their families, communities, organizations, and teams.