Last week, we talked about the myth of control and how the pursuit of control prevents people from making real choices. We built on the timeless advice of the Greek Stoic philosopher, Epictetus: it's not what happens to you but how you respond that matters.
This kind of thinking can be quite challenging to apply, primarily because of two key elements: huge impacts by conditions outside our control and having to take responsibility for our own current situation.
Many of us have been impacted in significant ways brought on by circumstances we did not create. There's no argument here on this one.
Sure, some of us followed amped up illusions of ever greener pastures and so wound up making choices that have contributed to our own demise. (How many people swallowed the illusion that they could somehow afford that house with all borrowed money on interest rates that were only going to last six months?)
However, there continue to be a huge number of impacts over which most of us have no control, other than how we respond.
That leads us to the next and perhaps even greater challenge - many of us find this kind of advice challenging because it brings responsibility (the ability to respond) right back in our face.
Please keep in mind that responsibility as I have continuously used the word in these articles, refers to the ability to respond. It is not about blame. It simply recognizes that no matter what happens to me, I have the ability to make choices about how I respond, and I'm the one who is going to have to make those choices.
(And, by the way, those choices will have consequences as well, positive or negative. So, choose with awareness, not just hope.)
As we go through this economic train wreck, many are tempted to blame someone - the banks, the Bush administration, Clinton before him, Reagonomics, capitalism in general and any of a hundred different people and institutions. The only problem with blame is that you can blame until the cows come home and at the end of all the blaming, you will still be faced with the problem you are experiencing.
If anyone is going to get you out of this mess, it will most likely be you! The same holds true for me and the impacts I'm experiencing. Not the government. Not the liberal form of government. Not the conservative form of government. Not some charitable organization. Not a new employer with guaranteed business success.
Just me. Just you. Little old me. Little old you.
It's going to come down to choices I make, choices you make. The shortsighted amongst us will complain (there's that complain/blame game again), that little old me, little old you can't fix the economy, the banking system, world hunger or poverty in general.
True enough. However, no matter how bleak the situation, there are still things I can do about my current circumstance. It is unlikely that any single choice I make will solve the whole problem or repair my damaged job, housing, savings, or general living situation. However, without the next step, how are things going to improve? Without doing whatever I can about my circumstances, what am I supposed to do?
Complain about how unfair this is? Go ahead, complain until you turn blue and see what changes.
Of course, you could always sit there and take pot shots at steps that some people are taking to move forward. I love the folks who have jeered the job creation efforts in the UK and Europe following the crash of heavy industry in the late 1970's and 1980's. Their principle complaints? The new jobs didn't completely make whole the lost jobs; many of the new jobs only lasted a relatively short period of time; and the like.
The point isn't about finding a permanent cure for what ails you - the point is about taking a positive step toward a solution. The point isn't about finding perfection, it's about finding direction. Even more so, the point is about taking action to move in the direction you might prefer. And then taking the next step after that.
Problematically, many of us been sucked into complacency, sitting back waiting for someone else to fix the problem. Even more problematic, many of us have succumbed to a form of self-induced weakness, wherein we trade away our ability to make choices and act on them for the feel-good-by-feeling-bad mentality of blaming and complaining.
Want to make a difference in your own life? How about starting by making a list of all the things you could do that would earn an extra $5 for you and your family. When you get done with that list, make one that includes things you could do to earn an extra $50. And then one on $500. And then $5,000. Go as far as you like with this idea.
When you get done, pick a couple that you can imagine actually doing, and then go do them. Don't worry about getting anything done perfectly, just get moving. Don't worry about finding the perfect solution. Just get moving. Once you get moving, you will begin to gather some information about what works for you, what you seem to be better suited to do, and then find another next step you can take.
None of this perfect. It's not meant to be. It's about taking action as best you can with what you have wherever you happen to find yourself.
You may be surprised at what you learn by taking even the most simple of steps. Next week, we will look at another great myth, the myth of stability.
I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
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 www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.