Life vs. Life Situation

life in difficult circumstances

We live in challenging times. I’m going to be speaking to a group of young people in a couple of weeks and their leaders were telling me that these youth feel considerable stress, anxiety and a foreboding about the future. Some of them are depressed. Most of them know school friends who are talking about taking their own lives. Some have friends who have.

Hearing this saddens me. I feel for these young people, many of whom feel uncertain and confused. And it’s not just young people, these days. Certainly, lots of adults are living with a vague sense of dread about circumstances that can seem pretty overwhelming and beyond their ability to control or influence.

Life vs. life situation

These thoughts bring up a distinction to me–life vs. life situation. My life situation has to do with what is going on “out there”–events, day-to-day occurrences, global circumstances that affect us all (economy, state of the world) and personal circumstances that affect just me and perhaps my loved ones.

My life, on the other hand, is much more than my life situation. It begins with the very fact of life. Here I am–an incredibly complex living and breathing being which not only miraculously sustains life but interprets, makes sense, and chooses how to respond to life (or my life situation). This “being” (life) is so much more and bigger than my life situation.

That’s what I want to say to these young people. Your life is not your life situation. You can tell me all about your life situation–what’s going on, the “good” and the “bad,” the “facts” and circumstances. And I’d want to listen. I love to hear people’s stories. And most people need to be heard. There is something validating about telling their stories.

What’s most important

But then I’d come back to my main theme. What is most important about your life is not what’s going on, in other words, all the facts and circumstances. Far more important and what really defines “you” and the quality of your life is your incredible ability to see what’s going on and make choices about what things mean and how you’ll act on them.

It’s true that lots of youth, and their parents, face some tough realities right now. However, it is also true that what things mean is not cast in stone. I get to decide. You get to decide.

The story of Luke Jones

I recently listened to a 31-year-old man by the name of Luke Jones tell his personal story. On March 2, 1980, at 18 months of age, he fell head first into a washing machine of scalding water. By the time Luke’s mother pulled him out he was not breathing and covered over 60% of his body with 3rd degree burns.

His mother immediately began resuscitation and had someone call 911. Little Luke was rushed to the hospital in a coma. His brain had swelled so badly that the doctors didn’t think he’d last through the night. But he fooled them. Although a long and difficult journey and close to death on several occasions, Luke survived.

However, many effects of the accident permanently altered the course of Luke’s life. For example, the scarring was permanent. His parents put him in a “spiderman” type outfit (with eye, nose, mouth and ear holes) to help his skin heal and, no doubt, to protect other people from the shock of seeing him.

When four years old he was in class for children. A new girl came into the class and, upon seeing Luke, started to cry. At first, the teacher could not get her to stop crying. The teacher eventually consoled her by holding her in her lap. But then each time the girl would look up and see Luke, she’d start crying all over again.

At some point, as the girl was crying, Luke got up from his chair and started backing towards the door of the classroom. Can you imagine what he must have been feeling at that moment– scared, rejected, inadequate? After several steps he could back up no further. What next? Would he open the door and run? Find a place to hide? Seek out his parents?

Instead, he started singing a children’s song. At first, Luke sang alone. Then a few more children joined in and before long every child, including the frightened newcomer and an astonished teacher, were singing the words to this song. Fear yielded to smiles and love; misperception to truth and goodwill.

I’ve thought about the change that happened inside of Luke as he started to sing. Certainly, he couldn’t conceptualize it in his four-year-old mind, but singing the words of that song made a statement. “I know who I am. My life matters. I am worthy of your love.”

Far more important than Luke’s appearance is his ability to decide. Luke is one of the fortunate souls who have learned this lesson.

In fact, Luke’s had lots of opportunities in adulthood to receive reconstructive surgery to repair his ears, make them look normal. He’s refused, telling his parents, “This is who I am,” saying, in essence, “Who I am is okay. I don’t need to be different to be lovable or have a happy and successful life.”

Responsibility for my life

determined boy

Reality is what is, the facts and circumstances of my life, my life situation. But reality doesn’t define “me,” the essence of my life, or who I am. Responsibility is my ability to make choices about reality–what it means; how I’ll step up to it. And how I use this responsibility determines my results, my destiny, the richness, and meaning of my life.

So that’s what I want to say to these young people. Yup, there are some tough realities out there. I won’t minimize that. And it’s sometimes tempting to be overwhelmed by those realities.

But what’s bigger, those realities or your ability to choose? And then I’ll go on and teach them some strategies for stepping up to life, for making good, positive, and strengthening choices. Because, in truth, there is nothing stronger and more resilient than the human spirit. Somewhere inside these youth know that. I just want them to know that they know it.

Here are a few of those strategies I’ll teach them to deal with tough situations.

  1. Face reality. We do so much to avoid and distract ourselves from the hard things of life—being busy every minute, listening/watching media non-stop, using alcohol and drugs, and so on. The more we run from reality the more it persists. We need to pause and face it squarely.
  2. Lean into the grungy feelings (but don’t wallow here forever). Give yourself permission to feel your fear, anxiety, sorrow, inadequacy, etc. without acting it out. Just sit with it. Notice what it’s like in your body. Where do you feel it? What exactly does it feel like? How big is it? What color? Does it have a shape? Can you give it a name? We need to get better at allowing our negative feelings. As we allow rather than run from them, they begin to dissipate. They aren’t so big and scary.
  3. Look at the thoughts behind the feelings. Our feelings don’t come from a circumstance but rather how we talk to ourselves about it. So what story are you making up about this situation? What are you telling yourself?
  4. Challenge your thoughts. They don’t just happen to you. You create them in your mind. Can you see some distortions in your self-talk? Are you willing to own that your thoughts are not the “truth” but a point of view? Find another point of view. Build a case for this point of view. Talk back to your negative thoughts.
  5. Stand tall (literally). Stand up and put your shoulders back. Hold your head high. Take some deep breaths and feel power begin to flow into your body. How would you stand if you were superman or wonder woman? Feel your power as you change your physiology.
  6. Decide what you want. What is most important to you, even though you don’t control everything. What do you control? How do you want to be? What outcomes do you want and what can you do to create those outcomes?
  7. Now get into action. Move forward. Trust yourself. Do something, even if not about the situation, something to get on with your life. It won’t be perfect. Its okay to muddle forward, but at least you’ll be taking action rather than feeling uncertain, confused and overwhelmed.

And remember that no situation is bigger than you. You are bigger than your life situation. See yourself bigger (again, literally). See yourself as big and this life situation as small. Stand above it. Decide what it means and what you’ll do about it.

Luke learned this lesson as a young boy. You, too, can learn this lesson.

(Sign up for my new course: CLAIMING YOUR POWER TO LIVE A HAPPY AND ABUNDANT LIFE on Udemy.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

3 responses to “Life vs. Life Situation”

  1. Ayaya Inuen Ayaya says:

    Thanks so much Roger, for this articles (life vs life situation). It makes me recall an imaginary tought of my past, that has long dwelled in me. With your writing, I can develop creative changes in my life. Thanks Sir, God bless you. Ayaya Inuen

  2. Festus seyi says:

    Thanks so much, Roger, for this article. It is so impressive and transforms many lives. thanks

  3. coming from an outside source should have no control over how I feel. Whether it be people, my life situation, or even just feeling negative emotions for reasons I don’t quite understand.

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