Recently, I began to wonder what motivates people to move out of their comfort zones and make changes in their lives. As is often the case when we are preoccupied with something, I began hearing discussions on choice and change, noticing quotes, and generally getting a whole lot of information to help me sort the issues out for myself.
I started by deciding what truths I could glean from two memes that had caught my eye. One left everything up to individual effort, while the other made a case for following the path of least resistance (see Part I of this article here). I concluded what now appears to be pretty obvious: we are not responsible for every circumstance in our life but our personal choices do provide a measure of control.
But what about that measure? How big is it? How much can we really influence things? Do our conscious choices determine our eventual satisfaction with the quality of our lives?
Three of my friends generously shared their thoughts and experience with me. Through them, I came to realize that there are no pat answers, that one’s approach to choice and change is a determining factor in life satisfaction, and that quality of life can come both from careful planning and serendipity. I am very grateful for their openness and thoughtful replies, which I have summarized for you below.
A psychotherapist and university professor, Mia retired in her early sixties, found a new life mate, moved from Quebec to California and reinvented herself as a ceramics artist. She says change has been a constant in her life and points out that it comes in small, big, and downright life-altering proportions. She also notes that there is a difference between transformations made through personal choice (quitting smoking, taking a class, or moving to a new place) and changes imposed from without (children leaving home, being promoted, illness or injury).
When asked whether what she appreciates most in her current life is a result of her conscious decisions, she says nothing stands out for her. Without planning or working for it, she has acquired a capacity to be generally grateful and in the moment. We both agree this probably comes out of the many years she spent as a counseling psychologist and teacher of applied human sciences.
When asked about the measure of choice she believes we have in the face of change, Mia responds: “I know who I want to be, I have a choice to be that person.” What a powerful, grounded way of taking control of and responsibility for one’s life! This distills everything to one essential ingredient: personal power. No matter what is happening, where I am or who I am with, I can always choose and behave as would the person I want to be.
Barbara is a gifted songwriter, singer and voice teacher. She was once married to a respected journalist, producing her own one-woman shows and teaching voice at a Montreal university. Widowed in 2004, she took over her husband’s projects for a while, but has since resumed her personal path singing. She has also met and partnered with another man.
Barbara says she used to think that if she planned well enough she could accomplish the things and bring on the changes that she wanted most in life. Consequently, she made conscious choices, set her goals and worked diligently to fulfill them. For instance, in order to be free to travel, pursue her music and dedicate herself to nurturing the strong bond she shared with her first husband, she made a conscious decision not to have children.
Forged through years of disciplined training and practice, her singing is a source of joy and one of the things she appreciates most about her current life. This is a great argument in favour of diligent planning and disciplined perseverance, but Barbara has since softened her directive approach. She says her husband’s early, untimely death taught her to let go of the “pretence of control over her life journey.”
“From a broad view, a lot of my life was chosen, but when I look in a little more closely, I realize that the denser fabric of life is occurring without my guidance.” So it is that these days, Barbara picks a direction instead of specific outcomes and leans toward what feels joyful and purposeful. “I’m really just riding the wave of being… In spite of my reluctance to let life be. In spite of having lived with tunnel vision for many years, I’ve landed in a good place. I have been surprised with results way beyond what I could have controlled.”
Ever the optimist, she adds: “With more to come, I expect!”
Centered around feelings, Barbara’s approach is well-suited to those who have a strong sense of purpose and are intimately connected to their emotions.
Also a talented singer, Elinoar has lived and worked in Israel, New York and Montreal. Change has been a constant in her nomadic lifestyle as well.
Experiencing herself as a spirit who has lived different lifetimes in different bodies, she believes choice and change relate to inner guidance. “Our life paths are partly pre-destined. The soul creates scenarios in between lifetimes, which we then live out through making choices that are based on subconscious memories of those scripts,” she says.
In her current life, Elinoar most appreciates her spiritual quest, the acquisition of spiritual knowledge that connects her to her higher self. This gives her direction, joy, abundance and more.
“I work for it every day,” she says, “it came about by chance, but we believe that there are no coincidences and that when something comes along, it is a reflection of the invitation of the soul. Even things that we consider ‘bad’. In truth there is no good or bad, every situation is an opportunity to gain understanding and wisdom.”
This is an interesting standpoint that is probably not open to everyone. As someone who has attempted to live through spiritual guidance and been utterly unable to leave my rational self out of my “navigation system”, I can only admire the level of faith Elinoar possesses.
What about you?
What do you think? Do you go with the flow or methodically set your own goals? Can you leave your fate in the hands of a higher power or do you prefer to navigate according to how you feel? Do you ground your decisions in personal power or create your own special blend of all of these options?
Do you prefer not to give a thought to any of it? Your life will unfold regardless, of course.
I would love to open up the discussion on this topic and very much look forward to reading your thoughts on the matter.
In the meantime, please allow me to introduce you further to the WiseWildWomen who contributed to this post:
To learn more about Mia Lobel and get a glimpse of her work, click here.
For more on Barbara Lewis (and there is a whole lot more!), click here.
To hear Elinoar, click here. Elinoar’s memoirs are available in Hebrew in Israel only. You can order the book in bookstores or from the “Gvanim” publishing house.