Reality-sometimes it really sucks.
Historically, I’ve been a master at fighting reality. I think “If this circumstance could change, and if this person would start doing this then maybe I could do this.”
It’s not fair that…
Why can’t they just…
I would spend countless hours and energy scheming to fix the problems I wish I had, rather than the problems I actually had. Unfortunately, I am surrounded by people who do the same thing. However, we eventually realize that waiting on someone to help you tomorrow means to face another awful today and we have zero chance of fixing a problem unless we can zero in on what the actual problem is. It takes quite a bit of bravery to embrace life as it is, warts and all. But to move forward we have to face our truth, break past our fear and denial and deal with the problem we do have rather than the problem we wish we had. For example:
Is it easier to lament about your metabolism or to go to the gym?
Is it easier to talk about the changes your company should make or be the change in your company?
Is it easier to complain about your boyfriend not wanting to marry you or go through the process of finding someone who does want the same things you want out of life?
Is it easier to rant on social media about social justice issues or volunteer at a local charity?
Change is hard and focusing our energy on the things we can’t actually change feels safer than addressing the things we can, because focusing on things we can’t change doesn’t actually require anything of us. We can spend hours lamenting about what a co-worker or supervisor “should be” doing and how things “should be” different rather than spending the same amount of time and energy thinking creatively about how to improve office communication or how to find another job. Likewise, we can spend precious energy complaining about our mother-in-law’s lack of boundaries rather than setting and enforcing our own personal boundaries.
Thinking about the way we wish things were does not require any action on our part. Ruminating and talking about problems tricks our brain into thinking we are making actual changes, but the only time life improves is when we take responsibility and action. But how do we narrow down what problems we can change? Our lives are like looking through the wide angle shot of a camera; we see multiple things happening at the same time and we are not sure what we should be looking at. Where should we focus? How do we zoom in on ways to actually launch our lives forward?
We look for actionable problems.
Actionable problems are things we can do something about, problems we can address to make actual changes in our lives. Actionable problems are scary because they require movement on our part. We grow up hearing stories of superheroes, Prince Charming, or genies in lamps and we began to get comfortable with the idea that someone is coming to save us. Actionable problems are so scary because we have to change the conversation from “Someone is going to save me” and ask ourselves “How am I going to save me?” They require us to address the concept that we are responsible for saving ourselves. No one is going to do the work of living for us. We are ultimately responsible for the pain and the glory of our own lives.
And, that is terrifying.
Actionable problems require bravery, creativity and change. But actionable problems are the only type of problems we can actually fix. Actionable problems are the only hope we have for improving our lives. In Man’s Search for Meaning psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl says:
“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
“It does not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” The first time I read these words I wanted to stomp my feet and throw a temper tantrum. “Ugh! What life expects from me? But I don’t like what life is expecting from me? I want life to expect this from me instead! If only this would change, or that would change then I could deal with those things. But instead, I am stuck with these things! It isn’t fair that I am dealing with this problem instead of that problem!” And on and on I would go around the hamster wheel. Running and running without actually going anywhere. I became angry, sad and tired, but I never actually improved anything about my life. I was so frustrated about what life expected of me that I never actually addressed what life expected of me.
I hear people say “I just wish I didn’t have to deal with this problem.” “I wish it would just go away.” or even “I just wish I would die so I wouldn’t have to deal with this.” Facing up to what life expects of us rather than what we wish life expected of us isn’t easy, but facing actionable problems is the only way to truly improve your life. Asking “Why won’t this situation change?” will zap you of time, energy, and keep you stuck. Asking “What am I going to do to change this?” allows you to zoom in on an opportunity to make life better.
So what is life asking of you?
Bounce Back Better!
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