The One Simple Choice Holding You Back

Boy on ladder in the sky painting

Who do you want to be?

It’s an important question. One we should be asking ourselves more often than we do.

And I don’t mean who we are as people. Like, are we nice, mean, or kind. That’s important, sure, but it’s not what I’m talking about here.

What I’m talking about is how we’re developing and enriching our lives in the way we want.

For example, do we want to be Bob from accounting? Or do you want to be Bob, the guy who supes up lawnmowers, and builds elaborate birdhouses?

Sure, that sounds silly, but is it? Is it any sillier than Bob spending two-thirds of his life staring at excel spreadsheets and balancing budgets? 

Don’t get me wrong. Balancing the books for Acme Corp nets Bob the financial security he needs to build his life. It might even give afford him the privilege to work on his strange projects.

I’m not suggesting you throw away the life you built to follow your bliss.

But it doesn’t stop there. There should be more for Bob if he so desires. And he should go out and get it.

This post is about making manifest the creative person that you are. Using the resources of time and money available to you to work towards that outcome.

Because frankly, more often than not, we do the first part but not the second. We get the accounting job, and for some crazy reason, we stop there.

So I ask you, Bob included, what are we doing to put ourselves on this journey? And what happens if we go on that journey and it’s harder than we thought? What if we fail? 

What’s the point? What’s the pay-off? What are we hoping for?

Resignation vs Striving

There’s a trick hidden in the language.

So many times in life we get hung up on this idea of being this person we want to be. We fantasize about BEING a successful writer, a singer, the CEO of our own company. We fixate on the outcome. The end of the transition.

I’d argue that this hang-up is exactly why people fail. In fact, failing isn’t even a good word for it. It’s the reason why people never even try.

Instead, I suggest a reframe.

The power isn’t being this new person. The power is in becoming this person. The act of transition.

I like to boil this mindset into a binary: Resignation vs Striving.

At first glance, these words don’t seem like they should be polar opposites. But if we think deeply about how people change, I’d suggest that these are the only two paths we can walk.

We’re all faced with a choice in our life. Everyday. We may resign ourselves to where we are in life, or we may take the steps needed to strive to be something different.

One of these choices seems easy, one seems hard. One seems safe, one seems fraught with failed possibilities.

“Seems” is my point.

Here’s why.

People are Not Stable

We trick ourselves into believing that we’re one way or another.

This is most obvious in our youth. Think back to that college girlfriend or boyfriend you had. Remember when things went south and you, or maybe they said something like, “He changed,” or “You changed.”

Well sure. He/she/you was probably right. There was a change.

How couldn’t have there been?

People are always changing.

We’re a whole lot less stable than most people figure.

Think about our lives! We’re affected constantly by what we read, what we see on tv, who we’re hanging out with, where we live. It doesn’t just hit us and fall flat.

Sure, most people aren’t wholesale changing each and every minute. I probably won’t wake up tomorrow and join a biker gang. But how we position ourselves and our views in this world is in a constant state of reframing. That’s why you read shit like this!

Think back 10, 20 years ago. From this vantage point, I bet you feel pretty different from who you were. Go look at those old facebook pictures. Tell me you’re the same.

What if you look back at 1 year or 6 months. Maybe it’s less obvious, but I bet you could find chinks in the myth of your personality. Are you into the same hobbies? Does that song you loved feel flat now? Did you start watching a different tv show? Did your opinion of something or someone shift? Do you hang out with the same people?

We are creatures of causality. By that, I mean we adapt and react to the situations around us. And god knows, especially nowadays, a lot is happening around us.

So if we’re always changing, whether or not we change isn’t a question. It’s a reality. Instead, the question is how are we reacting to it, and what does it mean for the person you are, and the person you will become?

Intentionality vs Resignation

Change, or the apparent absence of change, has more to do with how we change than the change itself.

That’s a mouthful.

Humor me for a minute. Accept that we’re all in a constant state of flux. I know that’s scary, but just suck it up and go with me for a second.

The change in the world around us drives that flux. Media, friends, family, etc.

To use my earlier example of our ex-boy/girlfriend, that might have been going to college and moving away. Hell, it might have been reading a book or taking a philosophy class at college. For us older folks, it might be a shift at work, a loss of a job, an increase or decrease in earned income, the death of a family member, a dramatic shift in our weight, or the birth of a new family member.

I mean, look around, shit is happening all the time. Life feels like we’re inside a cyclone. 

What the outside world doesn’t do is control how we deal with that flux. What it means on our insides.

Instead, how you change comes from the actions you take in regard to these shifts.

And again, you’re always reacting.

Ok, here’s where the rubber hits the road.

For each of these actions you have 1 of 2 choices:

Resignation – You fall back on patterns you’ve learned, watched, displayed, and allow them to carry you forward to your next manifestation of self.

Striving – You act intentionally, with an understanding of who you want to be, where you want to go. This is the harder way, as it takes focus and intentionality.

If you take these two paths at face value, and you buy into all my premises about change (I know, I’m asking a lot of you.) If you do, the only real difference between resignation and striving is how you cope internally to an ever-changing world.

Will you cope by allowing the world to push on you and mold you. Or, will you mold yourself in relation to the world around you?

Said plainly, will you let the world change you, or will you change the world? (platitude alert!).

Ok, maybe it’s not so grandiose as that, but the sentiment is correct.

Will you consciously choose your own path, and craft yourself into the person you want to be? Or not?

When you frame it like that, it almost seems scarier not to strive! I mean, who wants the winds of fortune to dictate who and what they are? Because when you’re not in control of the person you are, who is?

Why we resign?

So before we go further, let’s dig a little deeper into resignation.

Why resigning? Why did I pick that word?

Why not quitting?

First off, there’s nothing wrong with quitting. I even wrote an article all about quitting, when to do it, and how. You can find it here.

For me, quitting is a choice. We do it when we try something and don’t like it. We quit smoking, or we quit drinking diet soda. Least we should. Maybe we quit that shitty job at Denny’s.

Quitting is a choice. An intentional act to set something aside in lieu of something else.

Resignation is not quitting. Most of the time it’s not starting.

Mostly, resignation occurs before the pen touches paper. Instead, it sinks its teeth into you at the moment of conception. When a twinkle of an idea pops into your brain. It is your lazy self, your not good enough self, and your too busy self. It is, in a word, the DEFAULT mode.

Resignation connotes a defeat with no clear path ahead. It is a surrender, a yielding to powers beyond you. It requires a sense of inevitability. As in, “I resign myself to my destiny.”

Resignation opens no paths but closes many doors.

Ultimately, resignation is deterministic. It says this is what I am, this is what I’m doing, this is where I’m going.

It tricks us because we believe it is the safe opposite of the fear associated with change. But as aforementioned, this is an insidious lie. It is simply taking change out of our hands.

What does it mean to strive?

So the inverse, at least in this context, is to strive.

What does striving mean, and why is it powerful?

Striving is nothing more than the act of working towards a vision on your own terms.

It’s managing that perpetual change machine with intentionality. It’s steering the ship (you’re the ship) that is your life in the preferred direction amid the storm of the world around you.

My constant disclaimer, that doesn’t mean forsaking your family, career, and house and moving to Bali. In fact, it’s often much more subtle than these types of wholesale changes. 

In fact, the most telling way is how we spend our free time. If you want to be a writer, do you come home and veg out on the tv, or do you write?

That’s a quick test to tell if you’re striving or resigning. And yeah, sure, I get it. You need some downtime. But if you spend that same time wondering why you don’t get started on the list of things you want? Well, there you go.

Striving emerges from the intentional act of controlling your life. To strive is to guide the changes that occur around us, and push them in the direction of things we value. It’s using our time meaningfully and consciously. It’s being mindful of who we are, where we are, and where we want to go.

It’s paying attention.

It’s that easy.

What we can do

OK, so we’ve stayed pretty far up in the clouds up until now. Let’s bring it down a little and talk about what we can actually do to break the resignation cycle and start striving.

The easy answer is for you to get off your lazy ass and start. But that’s easy for a reason.

The real ability to strive emerges from a shift in mindset. And the first part of that mindset is accepting the act of process.

I think the most powerful implication of striving, and why I use this word, is its separation from achievement.

Now I understand, you have goals. Let’s go back to our writing friend. Let’s say he wants to have a book written in a year. And he’s striving towards that end by writing a certain number of words every day. Great start.

Let’s say he writes his book, and he realizes that each and every word he wrote was completely, fucking, terrible.

Now, surely if you wrote everyday it wouldn’t be completely terrible. But the severity of the example illustrates the power of process.

Striving is the act of pursuing. It is the training of that muscle that drives us towards a vision.

Sometimes that vision falls shorts. There are bumps and failures.

The only way you’ll ever get there is disconnecting a large part of the outcome from the process.

But it’s the commitment towards the vision that shapes who we are and what we can be.

The motivation, the act, that is the striving. The outcome is something outside of you. It is not you. It is the outcome.

And I get it. It’s hard separating work from the outcome. This is especially true when we go something alone, and it’s on a project that’s deeply personal.

But only once we can understand our goals through striving, can we gain the momentum we need to take us the distance with our passions.

If you want more on that, check out my post on the difference between performance and learning goals.

Takeaway

Self-awareness is the easiest part of making the shift from resignation to striving. Most people resign out of habit. And once that habit is formed, it’s hard to break inertia. It happens so easily and quickly as we go about our days.

By bringing a level of intentionality and mindfulness to our life, we can break the chain and push towards the people we hope to become.

Striving is a habit. That’s it. It’s not a superpower. It’s not a special capability. It’s not a talent. It is nothing more than a habitual way of framing yourself in the world.

To strive is simply to be aware of your actions when presented with change, and exhibit a trait that is defined and in place with you.  It’s mindfulness.

At its core, it’s an expression of free will. An act of independence. And sure, that can be scary. It feels destabilizing. It’s a journey with higher highs and lower lows.

I get that. And you should too.

But in the end, you have the ability to craft your own change and you’re own journey.

This is the hardest lesson to learn.

And that lesson is that things like this can be learned.

Super deep.

See you next time.

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We’re all faced with a choice in our life. Everyday. We may resign ourselves to where we are in life, or we may take the steps needed to strive to be something different. Which will you pick? Click to read more!