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Are You Doomed By Your Circumstances?

Many people feel trapped by their circumstances. The main problem we need to address when feeling trapped, is the feeling of being trapped - not the circumstances, per se, but what we tell ourselves when we find ourselves in that trapped set of feelings.
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Last week, I wrote about ways to find your source of inspiration and asked you to write with questions and comments. Many of you did, often referring to my hypothetical question, "Am I doomed by my circumstances?"

As I said last week, that's a really important question. So many people complain about the hand life has dealt them, especially in these challenging economic times. In my coaching work, I often find people who feel somewhere between helpless and hopeless.

The biggest challenge I see in all of this is that each of us gets to be right, regardless of our point of view. Henry Ford often said something to the effect: it does not matter whether you believe you can or you cannot - you are probably right. The logic? If you believe you can, you will probably keep on trying until you do; if you believe you cannot, you may well give up before even starting.

There are hundreds of clichés on this subject. Where there's a will there's a way. Or, if at first you don't succeed, keep on trying until you do succeed. And many more.

Here's what Courtney had to say, and my response:

I've had this feeling so many times but you have to pick yourself physically and emotionally out of that thinking quickly, when it happens. In the last 5 years, two siblings and 6 friends have passed away. I was in grief counseling for a year and a half. Then this past fall, my work visa in the UK was denied on a technical error (which is still in the appeals process after 7 months) and I had to quit a perfectly good job and move back to the States. I am glad to be home but now have been unemployed since moving back. It has been the hardest and best few years of my life. I have countless times asked, "Why is this happening to me?" I think the saving elements, for me, has been to focus on what many blessings I have been given in life. Simple pleasures are where it is at for me: hearing a beautiful piece of music, the electric red sunsets in Texas, getting kisses from my puppy, and remembering sweet memories of those who have passed away. I have so much to be grateful health, good friends, a great Mom, etc.

What I am trying to say, very inarticulately, is I think the key is getting outside of your own head without denying your own feelings. What I mean is, accept and embrace your own emotions and allow yourself to express them but also, go outside, do something nice for others, try learning something new like a new language. Don't let yourself dwell in a rut. The rut will get deeper and harder to escape.

So, there is just my two cents.

Courtney shares a great awareness here, a great set of insights. However, if you aren't the one going through her set of circumstances, with her degree of awareness and insight, then you may find this easy to dismiss. My counsel? Hang in there, and see if you might be able to find some kernel of truth, some small element that you can apply to your own life circumstances.

After all, if we are doomed by our circumstances, then no one, as in no one, would ever make it out of the doom and gloom rut.

Many people feel trapped by their circumstances. The main problem we need to address when feeling trapped, is the feeling of being trapped - not the circumstances, per se, but what we tell ourselves when we find ourselves in that trapped set of feelings. As long as the focus remains on the circumstances, the entrapment will continue.

The first step out, after the initial awareness of feeling trapped, may be to begin imagining a new set of conditions that you would find preferable. Even if you can't yet imagine the new circumstances, can you imagine a more free or liberated state? Just that subtle shift may be enough to allow you to recognize that quiet voice of inspiration that we have been discussing these past few weeks.

The premise, if not the promise here, is that Spirit (or the Divine, or God, or your Soul or whatever language works for you) will keep bringing the opportunity for awareness, inspiration and guidance, but only to the extent that you are open to receive that inspiration, awareness or guidance.

So, start by imagining the life you would prefer - you don't have to know how yet, you just have to start entertaining an image of the positive change you seek.

Obviously, there's a lot more to this, but this is one good starting point.

Another reader wrote:

I don't know if I found your article helpful in that I was looking for more of a roadmap. I work as a marketing specialist for a chemical company.. I am not necessarily unhappy but yearn to do something different. My problem is that my children are young, 5 and 9, and my mother is in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's. I don' really have much time for myself and my life takes a back seat to everyone else's. I have to work. Plus my father is crazy.

Help me. Where can I start?

This is a different example of circumstances and responsibilities conspiring to create another form of being trapped. If this sounds familiar, the best advice I can offer is to hang in there, keep asking yourself questions which focus you on awareness of your own experience, what you might prefer, and on choices you can make for yourself. Even if the choices are small ones at first, at least they are choices you can make.

Here's a real life example for which I am eternally grateful:

My wife was raised in the projects in Toronto, single parent home, often without much in the way of food or clothing. She did not attend college and yet went on to become Director of Marketing for a multinational computer company. From there, she left to start her own marketing consulting business.

Continuing to follow her dreams with each choice she made, she then went on to write and publish a novel chronicling her life's lessons in a book, The Land Beyond The Clouds. While it was written for young adults, many parents have found the messages compelling and applicable to their own lives.

In preparing for this article, I asked her how she got from A to B along the way. Her answer: she kept following her passion, making choices that were "right" in the moment, serving as best she could, staying open to new information, new experiences and new choices. She endured many bumps and bruises along the way, to be sure. And, yet, she would say she kept making the best choices she could in the moment, knowing that with each choice would could new learning and more choices.

Notice the stories you tell yourself about why life is limiting you rather than how you are limiting yourself. Notice whether you are making choices that move you forward, or simply keep you stuck in the "same old, same old." She could have kept herself trapped in the story of broken home, life in the projects, and lack of education. I am so grateful she chose to keep moving forward!

And, if you are looking for a more inspired life, one with a higher level of aspiration and alignment with your higher purpose, then keep that in mind! Even if you don't know what it is that you actually want, specifically, you can still keep the focus on a life of meaning, fulfillment, inspiration and purpose.

Remember, the source of inspiration you seek is already inside you. It has probably whispered to you dozens of times. Are you listening? Are you willing to take the next step, even if it doesn't seem clear how it will produce the results you seek.

There's more to come on this theme. Please let me know your thoughts, questions, concerns or suggestions, either by leaving a comment below, or by sending me an email.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)