Do you ever feel as if you’re watching your life go by and you don’t have control of over it anymore? It’s funny how frequently I hear people say, “How is it almost October already?” “Where did the summer go?” etc. I mean, I’ve gone as far as to think, “Where did college go?” I just don’t understand where the time went. I’m only twenty-three, but sometimes it feels as if my life is just going by as I focus on getting the next thing. However, I think we are all worried that we’re going to be so focused on the next thing that we forget to enjoy the moment right now. I was also watching a movie or TV show (I can’t remember) where one of the characters said something to the effect of, “stop acting like this is all happening to you. Stop acting like you haven’t played a role.”
However, I think sometimes we do let things just happen. We don’t really take an active role in our lives and suddenly we’re living a passive existence where things are happening and we’re just taking them as they come without really thinking much further. It’s hard to know when we allow passivity to consume us. Sometimes we blame it on other things: “I can’t deal with that right now, so I just won’t.” “I’m focusing on my career so I don’t have time to deal with that.” “I cannot possibly date because I haven’t had good luck recently and I don’t want to get hurt again.” “I won’t be friends with someone who makes me feel bad.” We have justifications regarding why we aren’t taking active steps in some aspect of our lives.
However, Elena Gilbert from The Vampire Diaries, who wasn’t my favorite character, but had some great dialogue, once said, “Don’t take risks. Stick with the status quo. No drama; now is just not the time. But my reasons aren’t reasons, they’re excuses.” This statement was said when she told Stefan, her almost-boyfriend at the time, what she would write in her diary about them. While it probably seems super dramatic out of context, Elena’s words have depth. Life is so much easier when we don’t take risks or when we play by the rules and take the safe, knowable route. However, I doubt wildly successful people, those so-called “household names” became such by playing the safe game. They undoubtedly took risks and defied the status quo. While none of us want drama in our lives, sometimes facing things that we’re unhappy with will lead to a better life. It’s important to stand up for yourself, to take active steps toward finding out who you should trust and who shouldn’t. We all want to live our best lives and that’s difficult to do when we refuse to take chances, put ourselves out there, and accept that disappointment is inevitable. If we live life with the purpose of never being disappointed we will make regret inevitable. When we’re ninety, looking back on our lives, we will most likely think, “I wonder if I had done x, y would have happened.”
People tell us we shouldn’t have regrets. People also tell us that everything happens for a reason. How do we reconcile things that happen when we do regret something? People say, “Oh, everything happens for a reason, even if you can’t see the reason right now.” Honestly, I’m someone who thinks this way and I never thought it had a negative side until recently. Until recently, I thought “karma will get that person,” or “my time isn’t now, so I’ll wait for my turn.” But then, while walking down the street one afternoon, “Home” by Chelsea Lankes blasting through my earbuds, I had a thought that stopped me in my tracks. Literally, I stopped walking, looked around, and thought, “hmmm. That’s new.” My thought was this: we regret the things we had complete control over and chose passivity or inaction instead.
There have been many times in my life when I did everything possible to make something happen and the thing didn’t work out (relationship, friendship, job application, academic application, etc.). When I fail initially, but then something does work out its much easier to say everything happens for a reason, and move on because something better came along eventually. However, when I knew I could make something happen, but allowed fear or anxiety control my actions, and rather than make it happen, I just… froze, watched the situation play out as if it was someone else’s life, moved on and didn’t give it much thought until I had a pit in my stomach that felt a lot like regret. It’s hard to be active in all aspects of our lives. It’s hard to make ourselves vulnerable, give someone else a little power over any aspect of our life, or put yourself out into the world and give it the power to crush you. Most people don’t want to relinquish control, but sometimes we have to if we want to expand, grow, change, and adapt. So, how do we overcome passivity?
Well, revising your life to be more active is similar to revising a paper to get rid of passive voice. You have to be strategic, you have to look for the problem, you have to address the problem when you see it, and you have to have confidence that the change is a correction. So, when you like someone, let them know. When you want the job, do everything in your power to get it. When you want to go to Harvard, work your ass off. When you want to move to that city, visit, make connections and do the thing. If what you want doesn’t pan out after all the work, maybe it wasn’t meant to be. However, if you put in the work, and it works out, you won’t regret it. Even if you discover later that what you wanted isn’t what you needed, you can make a change. Going after something with your whole heart won’t lock you in forever, but it will surely prevent those moments when we’re ninety, writing in our diaries about how sad we are we didn’t call that guy (Hello, “the one who got away”), or we didn’t go after the promotion in year two instead of year ten, or we didn’t live in New York for a few years, or we waited until it was too late to cut a toxic friend from our lives. Disappointment is evitable, but don’t allow your fear of disappointment dictate your life… it will only create inevitable regret.
How do you cultivate a more active life?