Honestly, I’ve spent most of my life feeling like I didn’t have the power to change my circumstances.
My romantic relationships would always end in heartbreak and despair, but I figured that was just the “way it was” with love. Best case scenario, I figured, it was that way for everyone. Worst case scenario, it was something about me that I couldn’t help.
Maybe it was predestined—I would never have a happy relationship.
When it came to money, I was never poor necessarily, but never lived in abundance. I was tight with finances, all the time. I had hard time being generous and rarely could afford the things I wanted.
Everything was “too expensive”.
Again, I figured this is just how it was with money. Some people were born rich. Others were born poor. A lucky few would be able to afford the things they wanted, but most of us would just have to adjust our expectations.
That was just how the world worked.
I felt this way about most things in my life—career, calling, location, environment, friendships—like there was very little I could do to improve my circumstances. Things just were the way they were. I would just have to deal with it.
I watched a documentary called Rich Hill.
The film follows the lives of three families trapped in extreme poverty—poverty beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. I understand there are layers and layers to poverty—and please hear me when I say I am not trying to simplify it—but the thing I identified with most wasn’t their circumstance.
It was their reaction to their circumstance—a feeling of extreme powerlessness.
They said things like, “This is just the way it is,” or “We’ve just been dealt a difficult set of circumstances…”
The truth was they had been dealt a difficult set of circumstances. But I could see how they were also surrendering the very power available to them to change those circumstances and re-imagine their lives.
I didn’t experience this insight from a place of judgment. I experienced it from a place of compassion.
I do this too.
It made me start thinking about how often I give away the very power I have to change my circumstances. Obviously, I don’t have total power over my life, but I do have tremendous power if I’m willing to recognize it.
Most days, I catch myself surrendering the very power I’ve been given.
The closer attention I paid, the more I realized specific ways I do this. Here were a few things I noticed.
First of all, I say yes when I mean no.
Any time we say yes when we really mean no—whether it’s to an addiction, an obligation, a function, a committee, a non-profit, an event, a good cause, or a bad habit—we give away a little bit of the power we have to shape the life we want.
It might seem like the smallest thing, but it is not small. Those tiny decisions add up over time.
Second, I find myself giving in to compulsions.
Compulsions are decisions we make without thinking. These are the things we know aren’t good for us—and if we stopped to think about them for a second, we wouldn’t do them—but we don’t stop to think about them, so we do them anyway.
This is the ice cream at midnight—out of the tub, with a spoon. It’s obsessively checking your cell phone (that’s mine) or stalking your ex’s Facebook profile.
This is addictions—like cigarettes, television, alcohol, caffeine and shopping—or even things like exercise and dieting.
When we give into our compulsions, over and over, we sacrifice the power we have to make what we know are the right decisions—the decisions that lead us to freedom.
Third, I take the easy way out
You know that feeling in your gut when you just know the right thing to do? You know you should tell that person the truth, confront someone in the wrong, speak up about something you’re feeling or noticing, or just walk over to a person who is having a bad day and say hello?
Here’s what I’ve found: when we respond in obedience to those urges, they lead us out of a crisis or into opportunity.
The problem is, all too often, we take the easy way out.
We think to ourselves, “Oh, he or she will never know the difference if I don’t admit the truth,” or we find a way to get around the conflict instead of confronting it head-on. We justify not talking to the person having a bad day by saying we’re too busy and have to get going.
But every time we take the easy way out, we surrender to a reality we don’t ultimately want. The easy way out is never as easy as we want.
Fourth, I worry more about others than I do about myself
I don’t know about you, but I find myself in conversations with people, or just in relationships, thinking more about what matters to the people around me—what motivates them, what hurts them, what they want and need, what they’re thinking and feeling—than I do about my own wants, needs, thoughts and ideas.
In the process, I sacrifice a really important part of myself.
There’s nothing wrong with caring for others. But if we care for others at the expense of caring for ourselves, we sacrifice the power we’ve been given to shape our lives and ourselves.
Finally, I live in fear rather than love.
Dr. Carolyn Leaf—a researcher who has been studying the brain for decades—says fear and love are mutually exclusive. We can’t experience both at the same time.
In other words, when I’m living in fear—fear of what other people think of me, fear of not having enough, fear of leaving others behind, fear of being left behind, fear of success or fear of failure—I don’t get to experience the profound love that is meant for me and that motivates me and drives me to become love for others.
Fear steals our ability to love—and along with it, it steals our ability to shape our circumstances and surroundings through the power of loving ourselves and loving others.
Anytime we surrender to the notion that we have no power, we abandon the great power we have.
And ironically, even in that surrender, we shape our reality. If we believe we have no power, we will live powerless. It is only when we wake up to the great power we’ve always had that we’ll discover our innate ability to move, create, shift and change our world.