I have experienced a lot of set backs over the past few weeks, months, years, decades. Though I learn more with every challenge, the trials keep coming. Such is the nature of life. Knowing this doesn’t stop me from getting frustrated with myself or beating myself up when I make the same mistakes, end up in the same situations, and create the same types of relationships. Oprah has often quoted the late Maya Angelou in saying, “You do the best you can until you know better. And then when you know better, you do better.” [Hear Oprah's words HERE.] My discouragement comes when I find myself in a similar situation and think, “You know better. Why the hell didn’t you do better this time?”
“It’s not the future that you’re afraid of. It’s repeating the past that makes you anxious.” ~Unknown
I realized not too long ago that, from professional pursuits to romantic partnerships, my life has been almost exclusively a series of passive decisions and reflexive responses to my external world. One doesn’t have to look too hard to see that this is a learned coping strategy from my childhood where intelligent reaction meant survival. I had to constantly be on the look-out for the changing moods and realities of my mentally-ill mother. Planning anything was futile. Expecting anything was pointless.
These same passively permissive patterns have been repeating themselves in my life long past the time when they served to protect and keep me alive. Though I am no longer at the mercy of my mother’s unpredictable mental health, I continue to sit back and watch my life unfold as if I have no say or no control. As a result, lasting changes rarely occur.
Thankfully, life is not about getting it right. It's about knowing when you're doing it wrong and then doing something about it. My favorite Buddhist monk (yes, I have a favorite), Thich Nhat Hanh, said, "People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar." That was me for a long time. I was used to suffering at the hands of a sick mother. I knew what it felt like to be neglected, deflated, and invalidated when it came to my goals and ambitions. I was familiar with being let down and left out. But as soon as I started to take baby steps toward letting go of my suffering, my entire life changed. Opportunities that had always been there were suddenly options because I was now conscious of them. New choices presented themselves at every turn because I was now aware of them.
If you knew how often I wonder what my life could have been/would have been/should have been had I known I was able to make different choices.
I lament, “If only...”
But when all is said and done, I did choose (or not choose as the case may be) these things. And there was no way I could have done any better. I was operating under the information and choosing from the choices I had available to me at those moments in my life. Nothing that has existed or will ever exist as a pattern in my life is the result of anyone else but me - either my choices or my reactions to choices, either my actions or my inaction.
Carl Jung said, "You are what you do, not what you say you'll do." He also said, "I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become."
Because I am the one who holds the pen to write my own life, my desires are manifested by what I actually DO, right? My taking active steps toward something is showing desire for it, but anything else is just wishful thinking. Paulo Coelho, the author of The Alchemist, said,
"You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one because each day is a different one. Each day brings a miracle of its own and it's just a matter of paying attention to this miracle."
Thankfully, I am learning to see the miraculous font of new choices each day holds. Mercifully, I get to hit the re-do button and aim again for my desires with each new morning.
The toughest question with which we are faced when it comes to planning for the future (jobs, family, money) is "what if?" But, assuming you are not being rash or irresponsible in your decision making, the most beautiful answer to that daunting hypothetical is "then I will choose where I will go next."
Choose confidently today.
Choose boldly tomorrow.
Then, when you invariably make a mistake and come up against an unwelcome or undesirable consequence,
and choose again.