Taking Total Control
"Circumstance does not make the man, it reveals him to himself." - James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
James Allen sounds an awful lot like a stoic philosopher when he writes this famous quote. Too often we focus on how we wish our biggest difficulties didn’t exist or never happened or weren’t approaching, but the reality is that we should be grateful for the worst circumstances in our lives. These circumstances are our opportunity to reveal to ourselves our own character and to grow our selves into the people we want to be. Without massive almost unbearable challenges we would never know if we are the people we think and tell others we are.
When I read the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel I started to realize that in his struggle through the worst death camps of the holocaust he came to find how powerful his love for his wife was. His entire future and present had been taken from him and his existence sometimes hinged on something as trivial as a Nazi SS guard pointing him to the left or to the right. In this existence he came to realize that he loved his wife so much that it didn’t matter whether she was alive or dead anymore. Her memory was enough to bring him joy and control over how he felt. Even when he was undergoing unspeakable tortures. Sometimes a man cannot know who he truly loves and what he truly values until his entire life, liberty, and future have been taken away. Only then are his most valued memories revealed to himself.
We always have control of the decisions we make and we always have a choice of how to feel. Whether we are enduring the worst of humanity or a traffic jam how we respond and how we behave is a choice that we have to make and that choice defines our character. James Allen explains that a person of good character will only encounter good circumstances. I’ve always struggled with this idea that our inner being creates the environment around us and that we need to take complete responsibility for everything that happens in our lives.
There are so many things that as a young man I was sure were bad and were not my fault. Personal struggles with bad habits formed around everything from studying to alcohol, difficulty with relationships and especially ending them at the right time, difficulties with money and debt, and difficulties with leadership and taking responsibility for others. I am guilty of, as I hope most people are, blaming others and blaming my environment for when things did not go as I would have imagined were ideal. I think that we need to eventually admit to ourselves that there is no real ideal outcome. Especially for people who go through life obsessed with movement in some direction. For these people there is no outcome that eliminates the positive dissatisfaction that comes from their healthy level of hunger. After years of struggling with taking responsibility for things I perceived as being bad and at least in a large part not my fault I’ve come to some conclusions.
- Circumstances aren’t inherently good or bad. We decide whether they are good or bad and whether we are fortunate or unfortunate. Accepting the perception of others about whether a situation is good or bad will only hold you back from progress.
- The greater the difficulty the more change you will undergo to meet that challenge. Since stagnation feels so universally depressing and improvement is universally rewarding difficulties and struggles are almost always at their core a good thing.
- Development of inner vision, clarity of purpose, and frequent exercising of will power ensures your ability to recognize the good nature of any challenge and helps you make the move from dreading challenges to accepting them to finally seeking them out in all aspects of your life.
This philosophy has helped me and continues to help me as I take on greater and greater challenges. I hope it helps you as well.
For further reading check out these books...