There are many things in life that are worth the price of admission. While many of us share the same values, each journey is unique in the sense that we must eventually travel alone. Accompanied by fellow travelers in the form of family and friends, we still are solely responsible for our own thoughts and actions. And that is all we really have under our control.
Like many others, I am afraid. Afraid what you think of me, what I will think of me if and when I fail. What failure will look like. But there are two ideas that ultimately helped me overcome these fears and push forward with something new, something that is uniquely mine.
The first idea is that my life is limited. My time here is fleeting, and having already reached “a certain age” I imagine that I’m halfway through my time, if not more. What I do with my time from now on out is my responsibility and mine alone.
I will not succumb to the real or imagined pressures of outside influences, simply because they are outside of my control and therefore not mine to alter.
Anything outside of my thoughts and actions, falls on the other side of an imagined line between the things that are under my control and those that are not. Anything that lives on the other side and outside of my control, will always be “just fine”. This is the basic tenet of Stoicism.
While seemingly simple, simplistic even, I have ingrained my own thinking with these ideas and it is like a breath of fresh air whenever I put it into practice. I respond to a rogue thought trying to control things on the other side with a simple “it’s fine”. If I am satisfied with myself and my actions, that is enough.
The second idea is a weapon to deal with any departure from the first one. Whenever my mind diverts from the predetermined track of managing my own thoughts and actions, I ask myself (or rather, I ask my mind) “then what?”.
When we start imagining how things will turn out, like how my boss will respond to the presentation I’ve spent all night preparing, I am trying to influence something that is on the other side, or firmly outside of my control.
Sometimes simply stating to myself “it’s fine” doesn’t seem to penetrate those intrusive thought. In those cases I follow up with “then what?”. If I imagine my boss will be angry that I should have done the presentation differently, the response to the question “then what?” could be that I will be sad, angry, humiliated, without a job even. I then ask a further “then what?”, to which I might respond that I would respond to the criticism with an angry outburst. The next “then what?” could be that my boss fires me on the spot, I am then out of a job, my wife is upset, I can’t pay the bills next month, I look for a new job, it takes me a long time to find a new job, the new job pays less, is less rewarding etc.
While this train of thought is probably the most negative possible outcome, it’s an example of my normal thought process, only taken to the extreme. I suppose most people are no different.
Taking the worst possible scenario to the worst conclusion, how does that help me? It helps me in two ways. It immediately dawns on me that this doomsday scenario is a very unlikely one.
There are endless variations that are just as likely and few as bad. Getting a new and better job is no less likely. It also helps because it reminds me that most things are outside of my control. I do not control what my boss decides, as do I not control if I get a new job.
Remember, I can only control my thoughts and actions. My thoughts can be put to better use by emphasizing the positive, thinking of ways to make lemonade out of those lemons.
Reminding myself that I have my health, my family is still with me, and my situation right now is “just fine”. I can also put my actions to better use by start looking for a new job, using the time to learn new things that make me a more valuable employee.
So the only thing worth doing is being mindful of my own thoughts and actions, since everything else is outside of my control. There are many times each day I try to regain control over other aspects of my life, but the control is only an illusion.
The universe is not out to get me, nor does it owe me a living.
What I have right now in my life can be taken away at any minute. So my course of action is to take care of myself, follow my heart and forever look for the courage to say to myself that everything, however it may seem, is fine.