“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.”
Albert Ellis, psychologist
This week a friend of mine lost her mother. A year and a half ago she’d been diagnosed with bone cancer. Despite numerous surgeries and treatments, the cancer continued to spread widely and was found in her brain two months ago. After accepting hospice a week ago, she died at home with her family. She was 57. By all accounts my friend’s mother was an active, youthful, gentle woman. “She lived quietly, with meaning and purpose, and loved deeply,” a close relative shared at the funeral. Her death got me thinking, as these events will, about the relative shortness of life – even for those who live to a ripe old age far beyond this woman’s years. How will any of us feel about how we’ve lived our lives when our own time comes? Have we taken ownership of every moment and accepted our choices – compromises, triumphs, screw-ups, and all? Will we feel like we’ve lived life on our own terms? Or, more tragically, will we realize we’ve wasted precious time always blaming others, blaming circumstances while we put off creating the healthy and fulfilling life we’d always wanted?
We all know people who have relegated themselves to living some half-developed life, meanwhile nursing a long-past resentment or irrational choice that continually holds them back. As a health coach and trainer, I see it all the time. Maybe they blame their upbringing – the habits they feel are too ingrained or what they see as the insurmountable challenge of getting beyond obesity and/or health conditions they’ve accepted over the years. Some people feel they’re too far gone to get up again.
Others blame their uncooperative spouses or their kids and the chaos of family life. Still other people tell themselves progress just isn’t possible given their financial situation, work schedule, or aggregate life demands. They’re already juggling too much and can’t give up any part of the routine. They can’t find it in themselves to simplify their act, so to speak, or just renounce it entirely to search for a better way. In other words, some folks can’t find their way out of the box because they refuse to visualize anything but the enclosure around them.
Maybe it’s unconscious irrationality, as Albert Ellis suggested most of us possess in some regard, or maybe it’s a more intentional, embittered blame. Either way, it’s passing the buck. It’s giving up on your own life, health, and chance at happiness. How is this gratifying?
Blame admittedly allows us to languish in the presumed comfort of bad habits. It allows us to wallow in laziness, to accept inertia for the sake of ongoing bitterness. Yet, blame always betrays us in the end. Behind the resignation is painful longing, the essential, enduring instinct to live fully. Whatever excuses we tell ourselves day after day, the sense of loss – of being locked out of our own lives – is still there. It’s a grief that leaves us hollowed out and estranged from life in general.
Occasionally, there are legitimate circumstances that can intuitively call us to slow down, to turn inward, to stop on the side of the road for a time. We lose a spouse or a parent or a child. We navigate the end of a long-term relationship. We face a severe illness or injury that imposes extensive and sometimes grueling treatments. These events can leave us physically detached and emotionally disoriented. It’s a natural, albeit individual, response. When we’ve allowed ourselves the time and space to get our bearings again, we’re likely faced with an equally difficult task – reinventing our lives and well-being in a new and challenging context. Some things in life we can change and some we can’t, but with time we can forge a way again.
In finally giving up the blame game, I think we make peace with the complexity and difficulty of life. We shake off the last of our excuses and let go of the martyr role. The fact is, every one of us works around day-to-day chaos and frustration. We will all face desperation and grief of some sort in our lifetimes. No one here promised anything different. It’s the rest of life – the chance to live fully and gratifyingly in our bodies, in our relationships, in our vocations, in our explorations – that we get to grab hold of and find joy in.
Life isn’t always fair (my friend’s mother being one example of this). We don’t get to chose every circumstance. We don’t get to control the people around us. Likewise, we don’t get all the time in the world to wait for the ideal circumstances to come around.
Life, as we will eventually come to understand (hopefully before it’s too late), will never be perfect. It will never be easy. There will always be obstacles, annoyances, and limitations to contend with on the path to health and well-being. Regardless of what our lives look like next to someone else’s, ours is still the one we go home with at the end of the day. Ours is the one we get to live – for all its possibility as well as challenge. What will you make of it today?
What do you see behind the blame game and the shift to mastering your health and life? Let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by, folks.