Do you believe that you can reinvent yourself and change who you perceive yourself to be and your relationship to the world? Or do you believe that you are destined to carry on as the person you have always been? Half of you probably like who you are, but some of you might still feel stuck in a rut, locked in an unsatisfying relationship, or just plain ridden with guilt and self-hatred. I often hear people say, “I can’t help it. That’s just who I am,” or “S/He’ll never change.” And the truth is, s/he might not. But you can make a different choice for yourself, if that is what you want to do.
There are always key turning points in people’s lives that make a difference in relation to who we become. Some events are traumatic and painful and take us into dark places where we might wander for years. And I believe that some of us need to take that journey, so that we can chart a course back to the light of living freely and with joy. Some of us, after we heal our own lives, bring pieces of that map back with us to pass on to others.
Every day we make choices — some big, some small. Those choices add up to who we are today, and who we will likely be tomorrow. Whether it’s what you’re having for lunch or what you say to a frustrating colleague, you have (literally) hundreds of chances every day to define who you are.
Without that conscious direction, your identity is left to forces, patterns and stimuli beyond your control. The job you stumbled into, the personal history of loss or disappointment, even the apartment or the neighborhood or the movies you watch — these will all, by default, determine who you are, if you don’t consciously decide to choose them for yourself.
The phenomenon of waking up one day to discover that you’re living a life you don’t truly love is a real one. It happens when you don’t actively decide who you want to be. Without a captain at the wheel, a ship will just capitulate to the sea. So will your life. If you want to become a better person, a more fulfilled person, you need to take action.
The “trick,” if we can call it that, is to be aware of every choice you make, and use it to build yourself into the person you want to become. Because some of our decisions can move us toward who we want to be, while other decisions can move us away from that person. The good news is, when you view every decision as a building block, you know the next decision about who you want to be is just around the corner. We are creating ourselves at every step.
It can be intimidating to realize that every decision contributes to the person you want to be. But there’s something very powerful about radically taking responsibility for your life. When you accept that only you can make decisions to become a better person and build yourself into the kind of person you want to be, you give yourself an enormous amount of power.
Compare this mindset with the default one, in which you view yourself as largely created by external forces. That worldview can be easier — at least it can feeleasier — but it’s also far less secure, fun and empowering. Our real power as individuals comes in how we choose to react to those forces. If you lose a job you love, for example, you have a few options. You can choose to mourn and groan about it for a week — that can feel very satisfying, natural and easy. Or you can acknowledge the loss and choose to throw your negative energy into finding an even better job. Or you can sit with the feeling as you go on a five-mile run, contemplating your next move.
Either way, your choice is determining the person you are now.
And we’re not just talking about chasing big dreams. This is about recognizing that however you respond to your life situation — big or small — you are determining the quality of your life tomorrow. Wallow in self-pity, or go for that run. Stew in the disappointment, or take a risk by applying for the job you’ve wanted all along. The possibilities are only limited by our own imagination. “Reasonable” is a lot more ambitious than you think.
Becoming the person you want to be starts with deciding who that is. And you can start right now! In order to experience real personal growth and change, and to become the human you want to be, embrace the fact that you will always be in the process of becoming that person. It’s up to you to join that journey and stick with it. It begins by recognizing that you can grow into the person you want to be. And it continues by always reflecting on who that person is.