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“A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” ― The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967
It seems an odd word when applied to us, to our lives – to who we are or who we hope to become.
He tells me he’d like to reinvent himself. Oh, okay. I wonder what he means so I ask a few questions hoping to understand. “Into what?” I ask. We laugh, but it’s a serious question, even if the tone is lighthearted. He pauses and I continue the snarkiness with, “Something better I hope!” More chuckles.
“Really, tell me what you’re thinking,” I ask.
For the next few minutes, all I hear is about the past with a bit of the present sprinkled in. Mostly things I already know. But they’ve got a familiar ring to them. They sound like…excuses. They sound like a front, a cover story.
Being the Hunter S. Thompson fan that I am, I thought of that line Hunter wrote long ago. “A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.”
When he comes up for air, through the reciting of excuses, I ask, “What’s stopping you?” Acting as though he didn’t hear me, he says, “Sorry?” So I repeat it, “What’s stopping you? What’s stopping you from this reinvention?”
Experience had taught me he’d likely go down one of two paths. One, he’d be bold and answer. Not many people do that. Two, he’d wind up with more excuses. That’s the course he took. I wasn’t shocked.
After a few more minutes even he seemed exhausted with making up excuses and crafting a cover story to hide why he wasn’t yet choosing to do something about this life he himself had built. The not-so-surprising thing is, like all the rest of us, he was vocalizing the many reasons why life had imposed on him circumstances and brought him to this point in life where he wasn’t satisfied, much less happy. It was all these influences on him that were prompting him to desire a change, a “reinvention” as he called it.
I’m not completely impatient when it comes to history or looking at our past because I realize the value in understanding it well enough to know why we may have learned what we’ve learned. I also know that deep down, most of us are the 11-year-old version of ourselves. Stuck in time, not because of hard wiring, but because of choice. I see it almost every day.
She grew up with hardly enough to eat. Now, as a mom, she’s fixated on making sure her kids eat even more than they’d like because she’s remembering her own childhood hunger. Well, her kids aren’t her and intellectually, she knows that but she’s unable to forget her own experiences and it provokes her to battle an enemy – hunger – that her kids don’t even face!
That was then. This is now.
I had a history professor inform us how history just keeps on being produced. We never get ahead of it. It’s a conveyor belt of events and people that just never stops. Our lives are the same way. Whatever your history is matters, but how much? I mean, this woman hasn’t been hungry for years. And it has no bearing on things today, except that it’s so imprinted into her she won’t let it go! Heavy emphasis on won’t, not can’t. Besides, if hunger does ever reoccur, stuffing oneself right now won’t eliminate that.
So Mr. I Want To Reinvent Myself is going on and on about things that have already happened. They matter, but again, the question I have is, “How much?” So I ask him. “How much does any of that matter?”
More “here’s my story and I’m sticking with it” ensues.
It’s now time to use his own language against him for his own good.
“Well, if you want to reinvent yourself then doesn’t that mean you invented yourself to begin with?” This ain’t my first rodeo in a conversation like this.
He leans his head back, putting his chin in the air. Takes a big inhale through his nostrils, then slowly exhales. By the time his chest goes in from the exhale he has realized the corner he’s put himself into. Now trapped in the story he himself told, including the cover story he crafted to make himself look better than he really is – something we all do, by the way – he’s realizing he’s go nowhere to hide. These are glorious moments for me because these are the corners where the magic happens. The corners where all our excuses are eliminated and we’re left alone in the corner staring into a mirror where at long last – for some, the first time ever – we learn that this is OUR life and we’ve made it what it is up to this point…and whatever improvements we want to now make…they’re completely up to US. Nobody else had a vote. We’re a one-person government with only a single vote. When we realize that we alone cast that vote, it’s a powerful realization.
So I look at him. I say nothing. I just let him process this moment as he grows more comfortable being in this corner. I suspect he’s not been here before because few have. Most enjoy what he’s been enjoying – telling the story of how they came to be in this spot. Telling the cover story of why things aren’t better. Telling the story that makes them look like a hero even deep down they know they’re a coward, unwilling to face whatever challenges have long stood in their way. Berating themselves while crowing about themselves in hopes others won’t find out. This is the stuff of all our lives. For some though, it’s a way of life. For others, it’s moments here and moments there.
“Have you been putting off this choice?” I inquire. “Have you been making excuses for why you haven’t created the life you now say you want?”
He stares at me. At first, I’m not quite sure if he’s getting angry with me or himself. Quickly, it’s obvious. He’s angry that he’s not seen this before. I can just tell.
“It’s okay. We see it when we see it. We learn it when we learn it. The good news is that now that you’ve learned it, you can move forward.”
“I’m an idiot,” he says. It’s a common refrain when we see something we’ve not seen before – especially when it’s something in ourselves.
“You’re hardly an idiot. You’re human. You’ve got baggage. You’ve got experience. It’s the Matrix that we’re all living in. Some of us have the courage to look at ourselves enough to see what you’re now seeing – we created this life for ourselves. All of it. We invented this reality so we can reinvent it. It’s great news!”
As we continue to talk I impress on him the man he is today versus the younger man he was when he first invented himself. He’s better educated. He’s got a family that he loves and who loves him. He’s got a career. His life isn’t bad even if it’s not the one he most wants. Yet. I remind him that the idiot he may feel he is is more likely the idiot who he once was and THAT idiot didn’t do such a bad job. “Imagine what this idiot can do,” I jokingly challenge him.
It’s always true. All those choices I made when I was a kid growing up formed my life. I’m not minimizing the influences – they matter greatly. But they don’t matter more than my own power of choice. That’s why you can find kids who grew up in awful circumstances emerge victorious in being great humans…while others who seemed to have every advantage may grow up as miserable people. We get to decide for ourselves. Influences and circumstances can help. Or not.
If I take a look at my life right now I know that the person who crafted this life didn’t know nearly as much as I know today. Didn’t have near as much experience and know-how as I do today. Didn’t have as much wisdom as I have today. Didn’t have many of the advantages that I have today. So am I to believe that today I’m less powerful to craft an improved life – to reinvent myself TODAY?
I’m so much more qualified to make a decision today. I’d argue that I’ve never been better. I’ve never known this much, had this much experience, or insight or wisdom.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve got more courage. The courage required to make a different – a better – choice!
That’s the hard work required of going into the corner. To stop being foolish with our cover story and excuses. To figure out how we can now, at long last, face our dragons knowing that we can slay them…because we can.
The dragons are those inside our heads, the ones convincing us it’s not our fault or responsibility. The ones that convince us others have done this to us. Or that life and circumstances have. It’s all that self-talk that we listen to and believe. We have the power over those dragons.
The dragons are those circumstances Hunter mentioned. The ones that’ll decide for us if we refuse. Or put it off. Life will happen no matter what we do. But even those dragons have less power over us when we understand that they simply require of us another decision. Namely just one decision, “Okay, now what?”
It’s funny to me how all of us – me included – can fixate on who or what is to blame. Mostly, deflecting so it doesn’t appear that we’re to blame. Like those suspects in a police interrogation room who try desperately to distance themselves from the crime, we know we’re more culpable than we’d like to admit. So we don’t admit it. That’s why those cover stories matter. And we can become skillful at crafting what seem to us to be great cover stories. The problem is, the better they are the more believable they are to others – but more importantly, the more we genuinely believe them. Never mind that they’re total lies. And we know it. Or did we did when we first started telling them, but maybe now, over time and having repeated them enough, we believe them. That’s horrifically damaging. When we delude ourselves because we’re believing our own lies about ourselves.
We can learn optimism. We can also learn helplessness.
Urging people – including ourselves – to avoid fear is empty advice. We’re all afraid. Fear is real. Even if it’s only imagined.
Sometimes we need somebody to help us. To serve us the way Ceaser, the Dog Whisperer, serves those ill-behaved dogs. He gently, but firmly makes a movement with one hand on the dog’s throat. A biting action done with his hands. It’s the attention-getter that distracts the dog, even momentarily, from the bad behavior. It takes the dog mind off of what they doing. It’s like the joke we make with friends who hurt themselves mildly, like hitting your finger with a hammer. “Here, let me hit you in your foot, it’ll take your mind off it.” The joke may be on us. It’s true. Sometimes the remedy is to get our mind of it. But how?
By not thinking at all. By doing. By making a choice and getting on with it.
I want to drop another 20 pounds. I’m about that far from what I think may be my ideal weight. I’m not deluded. It’s based mostly on my own sense of self and what my doctor also suggests. I can strategize about it. I can think about it. Then think about some more. But none of that is going to help me lose the 20 pounds. You know what will work?
Making up my mind, then beginning. Right now. Doing it. That’s what’ll work.
It’s true of weight-loss or anything else. It’s not more knowledge. It’s not more time to ponder it. It’s not some new, creative strategy. It’s not reading a book about how to do it. Or taking some course. Or paying some subscription service that has some tricks or recipes. It’s me deciding to get on with it.
Because here’s what’s going to happen when I do that. I’m going to figure it out as I go and I’ll drop the weight. And if I keep my mind made up, I’ll keep it off. Nothing will stop me ’cause I won’t let it.
And in doing all that I’ll be reinventing – or rewriting part of my story. I’ll be accepting responsibility for my own weight-loss outcome. I’ll happily look in the mirror when I mess up and declare, “That’s on me. I choose to slip up.” Then I can make a new decision on “now what?”
I can spend the new months pining about how I can’t believe life did this to me. I can fret and excuse every poor fitness I make while laying it at the feet of anybody and everything I can. I can surround myself with people who will listen to my excuses and believe them. People who will help make me feel better by telling me how I really don’t need to lose weight. “You look great just the way you are!”
And I can keep on being exactly who I am and what I am. Never changing. Never growing. Never improving. But miserable.
I get to decide.
So do you.
Happy Holidays! 😉
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