More often than not, we frame life in terms of can’t. We can’t drive until we’re sixteen. We can’t drink until we’re twenty-one. We can’t stand seeing Relative A at family parties. We can’t afford to do X. We can’t imagine finding a more fulfilling way to live. Can’t, can’t, can’t. Framing our perspective from the negative is a terrible way to view life because it focuses on restraint in lieu of liberation. By doing so, we shackle ourselves to a much narrower piece of real estate since, all too often, one can’t leads to another…
How often do you box yourself in?
I believe a lot of this negative orientation ties closely into the protections perfectionism provides. What I mean by this is that by insisting the circumstances be exactly “right,” we are given cover from trying something new. There’s always a reason why we should wait just a little longer for a “better time.”
In a world (let alone a presidential primary season) as chaotic as the one we currently face, adding yet more instability into our lives by venturing in a new direction feels like a crazy thing to do. We can’t rely on what we’ve got, so why in the world would we introduce yet more variables into our daily existence?
Aren’t we better off sticking with what we know?
Ah, a question for the ages…
Voluntarily assuming significant change may be the most frightening aspect of re-booting. It’s one thing to have your life upended unexpectedly, but it’s entirely different when we decide to arise from our chais lounge and march forward into the dark. I’ve done a bit of both, so I appreciate the different sorts of anxiety each evokes. Still and all, I would say this: even if the spectre of specific change makes you anxious, you’re obviously strongly attracted to the possibility or it wouldn’t evoke this reaction. This new possibility (or person) lurks in the back of your mind, haunting your thoughts and dreams as you move through your days. What makes them so scarily wonderful?
As I have grappled with fear and resistance to implementing change, one of my go-to rationales to argue with myself is that it won’t get easier ten years from now. The adjunct to this line of reasoning has been asking if I really prefer to maintain the status quo for the next ten years and the answer, invariably, is no. No, I don’t. Even the unexpected is better than encasing my feet in the cement of today.
How true is this for you?
Are you really ok with your status quo for the next decade? Will this fulfill you?
Of course risks involve costs! Heck, I worry about this all the time. I worry about the very real possibility and shortcomings I may face having taken myself out of the professional world to devote myself to caring for my dad and dedicating the time and energy to my (yet unpaid) writing career. It’s a huge risk with very practical consequences, but…
This is where the “can” comes in.
By taking these risks I can have the opportunity to repair my relationship with my father, I can have the time to devote to my writing and see where it goes, I can discover how I feel as a person who no longer holds an impressive job title, swanning about on airplanes, exhausted and eating stale pastry in unfamiliar cities. I can learn to find fulfillment in the humble service that is my daily life. I can discover far more about who I am and what matters to me when I’m not consumed with meeting the demands set by someone else.
All these things I can do.
Why this is important should be obvious, but I want to make it absolutely clear that even in times of confusion, loss, or setback there are always things we can do. Even when our body is sick with cancer, there are other parts that can function well. Even when a friendship ends, we retain the skills and abilities and can be a good friend. Even when we have been hurt we can forgive and move forward. And never forget that there is an entire universe of “cans” out there that we haven’t considered! Cans that unexpectedly manifest—catching us off guard—once we’ve taken that initial, brave step into exploring what we can do, working to discover what may be possible despite our mistakes or perceived setbacks or disappointments. When you look at it this way, can is one of the most powerful words in the English language.
What can you do?
So next time you find yourself daydreaming followed by some internal rebuke as to why you can’t or shouldn’t do X, I want you to catch yourself. I want you to reverse course and deliberately begin to consider how you can achieve that goal, how you can get to know that person better, how you can withstand the possibility that the risk may not pay off, and how much more fulfilling your life can be if you are willing to try something new.