Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pilot Your Own Ship

If you lack the iron and the fuzz to take control of your own life, if you insist on leaving your fate to the gods, then the gods will repay your weakness by having a grin or two at your expense. Should you fail to pilot your own ship, don't be surprised at what inappropriate port you find yourself docked.

-Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

The longer I live, the more true this statement becomes. But lots of people fail to live up to it. Why? What I think happens too often is not that people fail to understand the value of taking ownership of their lives, and it's not most often the case that unforseen circumstances crop up that bar them from taking control (though certainly this does happen): the single biggest stumbling block that stops people from piloting their own ship is impatience.

Everybody loves the idea of being in charge of themselves. I mean, who wouldn't want to chart their own course? It's when they go to implement this mantra in their life, however, that the trouble starts. People make a few changes--maybe they refuse to do some project that would've meant spending extra time at work, maybe they decide to finally sit down and write that novel they've been meaning to write--and then, voila! they expect to wake up the next morning a changed person.

Doesn't work that way. No, the choice to master one's own life is only the beginning. It's realizing you're on the wrong path, deep in a dark, shadowy forest, and then deciding to double back to where you saw the path fork off in the other direction. It's an a-ha moment.

To be sure, it's an important decision, and one not to be taken lightly. But that's all it is: a decision. It will take some doing to get back to the fork in the road, because it will undoubtedly be beset by fallen limbs and cracks and strange creatures with flashing eyes.

And doubt. Oh yes, there will be doubt. Because you will have gone so far down the wrong way that, in a weird way, at least, you'll tell yourself, you know what's there; at least you know there are no forest fires the way you just came from.

It's the devil you know.

You'll be tempted to throw up your hands and turn tail and head back down the road most traveled because it's just easier (so says your lazy side).

But if you just ignore those doubts, push them down, recognize they're just your over-protective mother's voice ringing in your subconscious, if you keep pushing toward that other path, you'll gain confidence. You'll realize that the felled trees can easily be climbed over, that the scary animals are just raccoons, that really, the only thing scary about the forest is the darkness and darkness cannot last forever.

We're stubborn-minded creatures. How do you think we outlasted the Neandertals, who science tells us were probably smarter than our ancestors? Because we don't like to be told what to do. We like to think that we know what's best, and even if the odds are stacked against us, there's a little insane whisper of a voice inside us that says everything will be all right.

So make that voice work for you. Only tune into the one that says you can correct your course. Even if it's the weakest of all of your internal voices, pay it heed. Because it's often the quietest voice that's the most self-assured.

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