How much can you change your life? How much can you change who and what you are? It’s complicated. Let’s insert some philosophy into this topic.
Reality Exists Between Extreme Viewpoints
On the one hand, I get crap from some of my professor colleagues because I acknowledge human free will. It amazes me how some otherwise intelligent, decent people insist that other people have no ability or agency to make choices. They are dead wrong. You have free will to change your life and who you are.
On the other hand, and at the opposite extreme, are the hucksters of the personal growth/success industry selling the snake oil of, “You are awesome! You have infinite potential! You can be anything you want! All you have to do is believe it (and buy my coaching program!)” Yes, all of us are, in each our own way, awesome. And yes, we do have potential to choose what we want to be. But anything?
Reality is neither simple nor easy. We have desires, we have the will to want to attain our desires, and we have the free will to choose courses of action that can get us what we want. What complicates matters is that we have to share reality with other things and people. We can say “I want this,” and reality will respond with “yes, but…” The “yes” is that reality is affected by people’s choices and actions, but the “but” is that reality doesn’t respond with, “You want that? Here it is.” It responds with how things are. Reality is… well, reality, and it’s too big and complicated to just roll over at someone’s whim.
What both the anti-free-willers and the success hucksters have in common is they dismiss one half of that “yes, but.” Those who deny free will reject the “yes, you can change your life” while those selling success programs gloss over the “but you can’t just do whatever you want.” Reality is far too complex to be reduced to such simplicities.
Building Your Reality
We have the power to choose how to respond to reality’s “yes, but” with our own “yes, but.” We can say, “yes, there are obstacles to my goals, but I still have capabilities and possibilities.” No, you can’t be anything you want, but you can be much more than some people will say you can be. The path to happiness and fulfillment is to ignore the deniers and the hucksters and chart your own course.
How do you move toward being who and what you want? There is no simple solution or formula, only hard work and persistence. Here are four general guidelines.
- Explore – Read a lot, listen to many people, expose yourself to different viewpoints, and immerse yourself in new experiences. The more you experience, the more you can be.
- Take In – Do more than just stand apart from experiences. Really Really listen. Really experience things. Pay attention and take things into yourself. Reality always responds with a “but.” Take in how things are. Don’t ignore obstacles and don’t ignore possibilities.
- Reflect – Do more than just drive by your experiences. Stop, take them in, reflect on how things are and what other people say. Connect these experiences and viewpoints to your life and how you think and feel. Consider what obstacles you face and what opportunities you have.
- Act – Actions are both internal and external. Once you’ve explored, taken in, and reflected on your experiences, decide how you will take action in response to those experiences. Allow your beliefs and attitudes to grow and change. That’s internal action. Then act externally to express your beliefs and attitudes to expand your capabilities and possibilities.
Life is a process. There are no magic solutions; no flip of a switch that will get you what you want. Be open and involved in life, think for yourself, be honest about your thoughts and feelings, and be willing to act. Most of all: embrace the complexity and be willing to do the work to make your life, and the world in which you live, a better place.