There’s this story that I often hear, from my friends, students, and even myself. The story is something like, “I can’t,” or “I have to,” or “I have no choice.” These phrases put us in a very compromised position. These phrases imply that some force outside of ourselves has forced us to do (or not do) something. Most of the time I would say this is likely not true, but even when this IS true, this is a pretty powerless stance to take.
Now, you probably think I’m going to say something like there is always another option, or find a way to make it happen. And sure, that’s a possibility. But let’s go in one more step. When you feel like you are stuck, or perhaps like something happened to you and you can’t do anything about it, or like you have to do something and have no choice, you have three options of how to respond.
Option 1: remain unhappy with the situation. Complain about how it’s happening to you, suffer, and remain powerless in the situation.
Option 2: decide that it’s not okay with you, and make something happen no matter what it takes (quit your job, leave a tough relationship, save up money, etc).
Option 3: switch your perspective, and choose the situation, exactly as it is. Decide (or it may even feel like pretend) that you chose this circumstance, and everything about it, and approach it as if that were true.
These options are mostly about perspective. None of them make your circumstance disappear, and none of them are necessarily “true”, it simply depends on how you choose to look at it.
I would say, most people choose option 1. It’s easiest to blame something outside of yourself, and continue to be unhappy, although it might suck. Option 2 is probably in second place. People hit the gym because they refuse to see themselves as they are, or cut out friends or family in order to move forward, or quit their job and live in rugged conditions. Option 2 can create some real change. But this third option, option 3, is something special. It’s this balance between 1 and 2. See, it’s not complacency. It’s not just throwing your hands up and being ok with a shitty situation. (Nor is it complaining about the situation). But it’s still not forcing it to change either. It sits in the middle. It’s the space of CHOICE (and truly, of freedom).
For these purposes, we will define choice as the ability to select freely between one or more options. Meaning, you might technically, not have another option, however, you still can choose freely. How can that be? This is simply a place to stand, a place that allows you to OWN your circumstance (even if it isn’t your “fault”) so that you can continue to choose what to do.
So let’s look at an example. Let’s say you want to start your own business, but you feel like you can’t because of your current, all consuming job (let’s say 90-100 hours a week). And let’s say this job has made it very clear that you will be fired if you lessen your hours, or make a small mistake, or something like that. And let’s say you cannot afford to lose this job because you have no savings, are in debt, and are helping to support a family member. So I would say, the odds of you starting your own business within this circumstance are pretty low. So you might feel like, I have no choice. I have to keep working at this job. I can’t create the career I want. So here are your options:
Option 1: remain unhappy with the situation. Complain about how you want to start your own business but can’t. You have to stay where you are.
Option 2: decide to quit your job and make it happen with your new business ASAP, or up your workload to 120 hours per week, and lose sleep to start this new business.
Option 3: choose to be at the job you’re at. Choose to spend 100 hours per week working, at a job that perhaps is not your dream.
Now let’s look at option 3. Option 3 doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t magically remove the barrier to your success. But what it does do, is give you back the power. Option 3 may even lead to something similar to option 2, just in a more powerful, less torturous way.
So lets say, you chose to work at this job, 100 hours a week, even though you truly want to do something else. And if you chose it - how might you be approaching it differently? Instead of dreading it, or blaming it for your current unhappiness, you might show up to work powerfully. You might take big steps in saving money, or signing up for a business course to do on weekends. You might network with people at your current job, and create possibilities for growth within and outside of the office. So, although nothing changed, your whole world might be different. And maybe in a few months, you will no longer “have no choice” but to stay at this job, but perhaps you will have a plethora of options looking forward. But by not choosing, or rather, by choosing not to take ownership for your circumstance, you run the risk of never getting out of it.
Choice doesn’t mean you always get what you want. Choice just means, you have the ability to decide how you live your life at any moment. It is not necessarily the truth, it is simply a place to stand. A perspective from which to look at your life. So rather than digging yourself further into the hole, you actually begin to gather the tools to climb out. But without first taking the stance of choice, having the power to get out of it is going to be tough if not impossible.
In the moment where you feel powerless, like you have no choice in the matter, ask yourself. What if I chose this? What if it was me that chose to get sick, or to get fired, or to be in this awful relationship? How would I look at it then? And then choose it. Own your situation, and watch yourself find the good, the ongoing possibility, and the growth within it.