Andre Gide noted that, “The most decisive actions of our life—I mean those that are most likely to decide the whole course of our future—are, more often than not, unconsidered. Like a train into which one jumps without thinking, and without asking oneself where it is going.” For instance, a dear friend of mine didn’t think she was doing anything important when she put her name on a list to help out at a charity event years ago. But it turned out her future husband was on the same list, and that’s how they met. Another man I met saved his own wife’s life using First Aid skills he learned through a course at work that he originally resented having to take.
Kids in grade school want to be teachers, or firemen, or police, or an actor. There are no kids saying, “I want to be an accountant for the government,” or “I want to do math for an insurance company,” or “I want to repair office equipment,” and yet most of the jobs in the world are those kinds of jobs. Most people don’t choose a career path—rather a career path chooses them. Before you know it, you’re some high-level administrator or something, and you’re wondering, “how did I get here?” Even many marriages come to be in this oddly incidental way.
It’s like we’re busy juggling our lives, and someone walks by with another ball that sort-of matches the ones we already have, and so they throw it toward us. And without even really considering it, we just catch it and add it to our routine—but not because we want it. We add it only because it’s similar to the balls we were already juggling. It’s familiar. Before we know it our whole life is like that. We look up in our 40’s or 50’s and we see a bunch of things that match each other, but they don’t seem to match us, and we wonder why we’re even doing what we’re doing.
Whether it’s a divorce, losing a job, or even a health crisis, life will often present us with major and mandatory direction shifts. These can be seen as painful losses, or they can be viewed as remarkable opportunities. Either we can lament losing the incidental, accidental, inadvertent life we half-chose, or we can seize the opportunity to realise who we’ve become, and then use that wisdom to better match up our Being with our daily existence.
As we age we get to know ourselves better. We slowly shed who we’ve accidentally become and we are left with who we really are. Then, when life suddenly wipes the slate clean with a death, divorce, or a job or health change, we can actually take that opportunity to write down a life that is more suitable to who we really are. This is why successful second marriages often test as happier than successful first marriages. This is also why many people feel their life didn’t start until after they got laid off from a long term job. Yes the transition can be painful, but to quote Gide again, “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”
Your life is mostly an accident. Very little of your life is choices, most of it is agreements. Someone offered you a job and you either took it or didn’t. Someone invited you out and you either said yes or you didn’t. So it’s actually odd that we worry so much when our lives get thrown off track, simply because they never really were on track. Yes, we have momentum in certain directions, but that doesn’t make those directions ours.
For all of these reasons it is best not to worry when major changes are forced upon us. Without these shocks we would fail to notice the ongoing options that exist in our lives. We would continue to march with blinders on. While it often takes some time for us to realise it, times of upheaval are also the times when we take the biggest steps toward becoming who we really are. Which is another way of saying that the turbulence in our life is often also the settling of our spirit. So don’t lament big, unexpected changes. Because far from taking you away from what you love, they’re far more inclined to take you toward it.
Enjoy your day. Enjoy your choices.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.