I’ve never lived my life by what other people would consider conventional rules. From a very early age, what others considered as “normal” often just didn’t make any sense to me. I questioned everything, which didn’t really make me all that popular with the nuns and priests at the catholic school I attended. I’ve always analyzed things, looked for different perspectives, and tried to piece everything together in a way that made sense. And if one piece didn’t fit, if a theory didn’t pan out, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw it out. “It’s always been that way” was never an acceptable justification for anything. It had to fit, damn it. And it still does. I’m amazed that I didn’t become a scientist, really. I love running experiments, isolating variables and turning my world into a lab.
What I’m struck by is how often people go about their daily lives without questioning a single thing. They’re not happy, they’re not fulfilled, but they never once stop to ask themselves if how they’re going about things actually makes any sense. They never consider if there’s a different and possibly much better way.
Let’s take the deferred life plan, as an example. I’m not the first to write about this; there are a host of authors out there who have tackled this subject. One of my all time favorite books is The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. Check it out, it’s simply awesome. The whole premise of the deferred life plan is that we’re supposed to go to school, then college, then get a good job that we’ll hopefully stay at for the rest of our working lives, marry our high school sweethearts, buy a house and 2 cars, have a couple of kids and wait patiently until retirement. Then, if we’re still healthy enough and we’ve invested wisely (and the economy didn’t turn on its head in the meantime), we can finally do what we’ve always wanted to do. It’s like we’re supposed to pay our dues before we’re allowed to enjoy ourselves and really live.
Why are we supposed to choose our careers at 18, when we have no idea who we really are, and then be locked into that choice for the rest of our working lives? And sure, there are people who change their careers later, but it’s generally a difficult decision. Their friends and family will usually advise against it. It’s risky. Things could go wrong. Better go with the devil you know… Never mind that your current job is choking the life out of you. Never mind that you can’t remember the last time you felt passion. Never mind that you think it’s normal to wake up every weekday morning with a sense of dread. Putting yourself and your own happiness first isn’t the way we do things.
But why not?
Why isn’t our happiness, our passion, our connectedness our top priority? Because it’s easier not to ask. If we start asking questions, we’ll get answers. And those answers might not make sense. And then, well, we’ll have to change things. And change is uncomfortable. Better to go with the devil you know…
Except it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. The whole premise of “change is hard” is just a belief system. We think change is going to be difficult, and therefore it is. I used to have the belief that in order to change my life, I’d have to go through quite a bit of suffering first. Whenever I changed cities or countries, I’d be incredibly poor at first, almost bankrupt a couple of times and nearly homeless once. Then, after I’d suffered enough, I allowed myself to rise financially. I’d make more money, get a better place to live, find awesome friends. And life would be rosy, until I decided to move again. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realized that I was causing all of this initial hardship myself. And as soon as I processed that insight, I stopped and my life became so much easier. Change has become easier.
I don’t accept absolutes. Whenever someone states unequivocally that something has to be a certain way, or that they can’t do something, I always challenge the underlying assumption. They’re often false. “I can’t go back to school and learn what I really want to learn.” Why not? “I have children.” So what? “We wouldn’t be able to survive on one income.” Really? You wouldn’t be able to survive? You’d starve? You’d freeze to death in the winter? You’d literally die? “Well no, but we wouldn’t be able to keep our current standard of living.” And? “And the children would complain.” So, you’re unwilling (not unable) to follow your life’s dream because you’re so afraid that your children would complain that, in your mind, you’ve equated it with dying?
Here’s another one, with several embedded examples: “I can’t lose weight.” Really? It’s been medically proven that you’re the one mammal in the world that cannot reduce their body fat? “Um, no, but nothing I’ve tried has worked.” Ah, so you haven’t found a way to reduce fat that works for you. “Yes.” That’s a bit different from diagnosing yourself with an inability to lose weight, isn’t it? “Yes, but nothing works for me.” Nothing? What have you tried? “Every diet out there. I’ve tried everything.” Have you tried changing the way you eat, not just some radical diet? Have you tried eating natural food, instead of processed foods? “That won’t work for me.” Why not? “It’ll take too long.” Really? “Yes. I can’t stay away from pizza and donuts for very long.” You can’t? You’re physically unable to? “Yes.” Really? If you stopped eating pizza and donuts today, how long before the pizza and donut death would take you? “What?” Well, you said you can’t stop eating them, so I assume that if you do, you’ll die. “Well no, I wouldn’t die. I’d just be sad. I like pizza and donuts.” And do you think you’d be sad forever, or that it’s possible that you’ve tied pizza and donuts to some emotional need and that you’d be able to find something else, perhaps something better, to satisfy that need? “Well, it’s possible, yeah. But I don’t know what that is.” So, you’d rather stay overweight the rest of your life than take the risk of not figuring out how to fulfill the emotional needs that would surface when you stop satisfying them with pizza and donuts?
These are simplified examples, of course, but you get the point. Whenever you hear yourself or someone else say “I can’t” or “I have to”, pay attention. We make statements like that all day long, without even realizing it. We take so many assumptions for granted, limiting ourselves countless times a day, in countless ways and then we wonder why we feel trapped. We’re not. We have infinite choices, we just have to learn to and be brave enough to ask questions.
“I have to have my coffee in the morning.” “I can’t confront my boss.” “We have to do believe what the papers tell us.” “I can’t question my doctor.” “I have to get married and have children by the time I’m 35.”
Question everything. Two simple questions, “Why” and “Why not?”, will generally get you to the root of an assumption that often has absolutely nothing to do with your current reality. Remember that everything is just energy, and reality is malleable. You can change it. Whenever you speak in absolutes – I can’t, I have to – you’re limiting your ability to create. You’re limiting your options. You can start small, and you don’t have to become a complete conspiracy nut. In fact, don’t focus too much on other’s assumptions. Begin with your own. How are you limiting yourself? How are you keeping yourself from creating the reality you’ve always wanted? Remember that you CAN do anything, and you don’t HAVE TO do anything. You may not WANT TO do something, and you may CHOOSE to do others. But there’s no one holding a gun to our head.
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