This idea changed my life.
It’s simple: there is truly only one thing you absolutely control in your life — your attitude towards your situation and your life. You have a choice: do you own that attitude, be aware of it, and cultivate it to be who you truly want?
The alternatives are weak in comparison:
- You can reactive: as events happen to you, respond to them often ending in a belief that you have no control since many of those events will be external to you.
- You can proactively think, “I have no control in this situation and I am helpless”. Learned helplessness is difficult and painful, but it can be overcome.
- You can have complete apathy and go about your life without reflection.
The power of this choice of attitude has become part of my core philosophy. It’s core tenet is this:
I want to become something that is beautiful, strong and a reflection of who I desire to be.
Every moment, my thought and attitude is a part of who I am. In each moment, I can learn from whatever my circumstance is: if it’s pain, I can learn how to withstand pain. If it’s work I don’t enjoy, I can always find something to learn to better myself in the future. More importantly, if I have a specific goal of what I want my identity to be, this awareness becomes critically powerful.
Let me provide a few examples — I want to make this crystal clear.
My first job was working as a stocker at a Drug Emporium store. For those who have never been, at the time (and still to this day), every item is priced by hand. My job went like this: My boss would walk in, point to a pallet of product, like toilet paper and say, “Ed, I want you to take this pallet of toilet paper and price them all on the floor at $3.99. I’m real excited: I got this as a special from Miller Paper Company! If you finish this, go ahead and start pricing that pallet of Hershey bars.”
For many, this job would have been terribly boring. For me, it was fantastic. I happen to like thinking in general, but in this circumstance, I used it to grow socially. I was originally a shy introvert, so I challenged myself everyday to talk to as many customers as I could and grow my sincerity. I would ask every customer with all my heart if I could help them find anything. As I continued to price, while this job wasn’t very riveting, I used it to reflect on my day, my school lessons or life in general.
Call Center Life
Life went on and I started working in an insurance call center. At first, this drove me crazy: I literally never knew what would come from the other side of the phone. It could be an angry person wondering why their insurance claim, a person who just lost their house due to a flood claim, an elderly person frustrated that they paid their bill, but got an overdue notice in the mail, or just someone who wanted to talk to their person and pay the bill.
I took this opportunity to grow my ability to listen and respond. I challenged myself to ignore the dread and instead focus on, “What sort of person do I get to talk to today?”. Using that focus, I really honed my listening ability. I went through these series of epiphanies about talking and communication and what service means:
- Often the thing you WANT to say, is the worst thing to say. Especially if you are frustrated. If someone is truly angry, listen, acknowledge and deeply consider, “What could I say to change this person’s mind or help them?”
- Most people are in such a hurry, they aren’t truly listening. If you can grow this listening ability, it is incredibly valuable to you, your loved ones and your friends.
- If you approach a service conversation by simply wanting to help the other side, you can always find a way to de-escalate a difficult situation.
As a result, I was not the fastest taking calls, I was not even the smartest, but I always had the best quality scores. Over time, I learned more situations and did become really intelligent at my job. Were people stupid? Absolutely. Did they argue over petty things? Oh,yes. But if you had patience to listen, none of that mattered. For me, this made every day have meaning and made it tolerable, even enjoyable for an introvert doing a job where I talked to people 8 to 10 hours a day.
But, I will admit there were definitely moments like this:
The Harsher Side of Life
But this idea also applies to really difficult, really hard situations. My mother was a bit crazy, but also a beautiful, artistic, thoughtful lady. My mother was also a heavy drinker. As a kid, I really, really wanted to convince my mother to stop drinking. I chatted with her for hours trying to convince her to give it up. My whole family did in our part in various ways. Yet despite all that heart, the drinking continued. I started to feel really helpless. I kept trying, but no change was happening. It started to feel like, “Why even try?”
I didn’t realize at the time that I have no control over what my mother decided. But I could control my attitude in that moment. For me, I seared that feeling in my brain: I never wanted to force anyone to feel that way ever again. By remembering how that helpless feeling felt, I could take this as a growth experience. It gave me an in depth understanding of helplessness: I could now recognize it, have incredible compassion for it, and know the best way to react to it should I find myself in that situation again. It took this incredibly painful experience, and made it into a treasured memory for me. I am incredibly grateful to my mother for the many lessons she taught me about life, happiness, and struggling with hard truths.
By choosing my attitude, I was able to find my peace and purpose in moments of duress, boring jobs, and jobs that honestly gave me anxiety thinking about them originally. It’s a key factor of how I live my daily life.
By having a clear vision of who I want to be, I know I am always headed towards that vision or away from it. I changed from being reactive to the situation life handed me to being proactive in how I want to respond to each situation.
Having a why behind your actions, gives you a constant to drive towards. When other plans flag, it always provide you momentum to keep going. When you experience failure, you still know in your heart who you want to be. And that person meets failure as a friend, gives it a hug, and moves forward with advanced knowledge!
I challenge you to choose who you want to be today and to integrate that choice into your everyday life!