A few days ago, I read a story about a middle-aged man who found a time capsule in his backyard. Reading a letter written by himself 15 years ago, the man came to a sudden realisation that his thoughts and values had changed so drastically that he questioned if he was still the same man.
Our perception of events happening in our everyday lives is tremendously important; they shape our lives and perhaps even define our existence. A slight shift in perspective can significantly change our lives, for better or worse. Here are 3 useful truths that I hope will enact positive change in your life:
- Life is almost always about situation and will.
Adversities present themselves in various types and forms, and we usually find ourselves lamenting our plights when the going gets tough. If we delve deeper into these problems we face daily, however, we will realise that these complicated problems can almost always be broken down into two simple components; they are usually about pitting a person’s will against an existing situation.
Circumstances govern our lives, and they renew themselves daily; you may have caught a cold yesterday, but you are no longer under the weather after a night of rest. When we experience tremendous hardship, we can understand that as the forced imposition of a new structure, or a new set of circumstances, on our lives. Like a neat row of cold prison bars, they shackle us and limit our possibilities. They incarcerate us and agitate sentiments of panic and fear.
But we can transform our personal will into keys that will help us remove these mental handcuffs. Our thoughts, actions, and resolve grant us the ability to rewrite these terms into ones that are more favourable to us.
How is understanding this situation-will dynamic useful? Sure, it will not empower us and turn us into expert problem solvers instantaneously, but this perspective may help us take things into our strides better. Years ago, I was tasked to do a group project with 3 male classmates whom I was hardly acquainted with. I had a particularly hard time with the most outstanding member of the 3, because for all his brilliant and amazing ideas, he wrote with a certain sloppiness that made our report disorganised and grammatically difficult to read.
Given this set of circumstances, I was initially pessimistic about this project as I assumed we were destined to fail. After all, the project was mostly his brainchild, and that made it almost inappropriate for me to question his writing. This situation went on for about a fortnight, when I realised that things did not have to be so. I was a group member myself, and I had the right to voice my opinion. While it was unbeknownst to me how much I could change, I always, and still, had the ability to challenge present circumstances and make them better. Nothing was completely set in stone, as long as I had the will to try changing them.
And that is where the beauty of this truth lies: we always have a fighting chance, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Perceived in this quirkily mesmerising way, we are all masters of our destinies. Pre-existing conditions are always in flux, because the people that these structures govern are always attempting to change them. But if we can view this situation-will model from a macro-level, as multiple actors constantly doing their best to change a situation in their own terms, we will also realise that although we win some, it is inevitable that we will also lose some. What is more important is to gear up and be ready for the next battle.
- Things are never inherently good or bad.
Today, most people today are very quick to form judgement on things that happen in our lives. That is understandable as most of us have been trained in school to form our opinions as quickly as possible in school. That has been perceived and perhaps even accepted as one of the qualities that model students should possess.
But things are usually slightly more complex in reality. In the movie “Inside Out”, it was revealed towards the end that the protagonist’s memories could not be defined solely by one emotion; behind the elation of winning the regional hockey competition, there hid a tinge of sorrow which came into existence because that was the last high school hockey game the team would play together in. Emotions are, more often than not, bittersweet.
The same complexity exists in morality as well; nothing is innately good or bad, and a lot depends on one’s perception of these events. There is no entity or event that is entirely positive or negative. For example, getting caught in the rain without an umbrella appears to be a negative experience that has no thinkable positives. However, this experience can have plenty of positives, if you search hard enough for them; you might have reached the train station earlier because you ran, and met a friend you would never have met in usual circumstances; this negative experience may even become a reminder for you to bring your brolly around, so that you find yourself prepared when dark clouds engulf the skies again.
Experiences and events, like a cup of ABC juice, do not exist as disparate, unitary entities, but are the result of a mixture of “ingredients”. As events are inter-relational and can have a far-reaching impact on our lives, isn’t it short-sighted to simply label events good or bad when we first encounter or hear of them? Since our “first impressions” are often erroneous, perhaps we should learn to give ourselves some time. Tell yourself not to hastily make a decision about today, and instead embrace what life has in store for you tomorrow.
- You are always a consequence of your actions, so perform every step well.
A friend of mine once told me earnestly, “My dream is to work all the way up and become the CEO of a renowned accounting firm.” Admiring his ambition, I decided to probe a little further to gauge if he had the fortitude and knowledge to back up his bold statement. Most of his responses were flawless, but one of them left me dissatisfied.
In his response to my question, “Will you offend others and do things your way just to get to your position?”, he briefly contemplated, but his hesitation was quickly replaced by a certain firmness a mere second later. “I would do anything”, he replied.
To clarify, I am not suggesting that being a “yes” person will take you to amazing positions, nor am I asking you to give less than your 100 percent in your life’s pursuits. I wish to emphasise, instead, the importance of the process. Perhaps enamoured by the material riches or prestige in this world, many of us, perhaps naturally, place our focus on the destination of our dreams; we wish to become world-class bankers, CEOs of top firms, and high-ranking civil servants. It is, however, myopic and even dangerous to adopt a “I will do whatever it takes” mentality to achieve your goals, because your dreams, if achieved through such methods, are simply not worth the chase; they are but a temporary illusion that, like a majestic mirage in the desert, will fade away in time, leaving behind only the harsh realities that will confront us again.
The logic behind such a conclusion is not hard to see. Imagine, if you had to offend 5 people on your way to glory and wealth. That essentially means that you would have 5 nemesis attempting to decimate the kingdom of dreams that you had painstakingly built. So, in reality, sacrificing relationships, especially with friends who stuck with you through thick and thin, to fulfil a dream, which usually comes in the form of a long-desired position or title, defies not just one’s morals but also reason, because ultimately, such a dream is not built upon stable foundations. To enjoy long-term success, it is paramount to reach your destination via appropriate means. It may well be in our daily interactions with people around us that we eventually appreciate the value of history.