Is Your Life Defined By Circumstances?

In my last blog, I talked about the difference between your life and your situation.  It’s very easy – human, you might even say – to define yourself by where you are and what you’re dealing with.  You’re the one-legged runner.  You’re the single mom of three.  The guy in line in unemployment.  The blind guy.   The woman watching her beloved mother die.

Reality can be beautiful, it can be calm and predictable, but it can also be harsh.   I’m not suggesting that you deny reality or refuse to share your story; your story is important, and often, as in the case of Dr. Randy Pausch in my last blog, is a gift to others, showing them how positive thought can change the impact of reality.   In his Last Lecture, Dr. Pausch put it this way:  “We can’t change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.  If I’m not as depressed as you think I should be, I’m sorry to disappoint you.”  Later, he said, “It is not about achieving your dreams but living your life.”

What does this mean?  Something different for each of us, because we are each unique.

  • For Corrie ten Boom, her life situation was frightening.  In 1940, the Nazis invaded her homeland, the Netherlands, bringing with them their intention to exterminate the Jews.  But Corrie’s life was built on her faith and compassion.  In 1942, at the age of 50, the mild watchmaker became very active in the Dutch underground, hiding and rescuing countless Jews.
  • Prudence Mabhena was born severely disabled into a society where disabilities area associated with witchcraft.  Her life situation was one of abandonment and abuse, but her life was her passion and love, which was expressed through music.
  • Last April, Vail Resorts in Colorado and Lake Tahoe was feeling the strain of the downturned economy, and CEO Rob Katz was prepared for more hard times.  This life situation made Vail Resorts, and, by extension, Rob Katz, victims of global economic fluctuations that were well beyond their control.  But Rob Katz’s life was that of a steward, overseeing the company and protecting the interests of its members, so he made hard decisions.  Most employees were asked to take pay cuts, ranging from 2.5% for seasonal employees to 10% for executives.  And Rob Katz, whose salary was $840,000, gave himself the largest pay cut of all:  100%.  “If I was going to ask someone making $8 an hour to take a pay cut,” he said, “they needed to know I was doing something that would really affect me.”

I intentionally selected three widely different examples, so you can see how universal the life/life situation distinction is and what a difference positive thought makes in the outcome.  I don’t know what you’re dealing with, but whatever it is, your life is more than your situation.   You may not be able to choose your situation.  Corrie ten Boom wouldn’t have chosen to have the Nazis invade her country, and she certainly wouldn’t have chosen to have ended up in a concentration camp where she watched her beloved sister weaken and die.  But she chose how to respond to the reality.

What’s bigger – your realities?  Or your power to choose?  If you understand this, you have the key to make major changes in your life, regardless of your life situation.

Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation, leadership, and teams. His tools and methods have helped hundreds of businesses and tens of thousands of people transform the ways they work and live. To learn more, visit


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