Life is the sum of your choices
One mighty tough pill to swallow
I read “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” in the summer of 2017. It came as something of a surprise. It was one of those books I’d always snickered at when I walked past the self-help section of the bookstore.
“Who the hell is this guy to tell me how to be effective,” I’d think to myself.
But following the dissolution of a long-term relationship and my imminent departure from a company that once held so much promise, it found its way into my hands. Looking back, I’m not sure exactly how it happened. All I can remember are a string of Google searches asking some Big Questions and before long I was buying it on Amazon.
Do you have The Right Stuff?
To say that it changed my life would be an understatement. I’ve read it twice and have gifted it to several friends. I revisit my highlights with stunning regularity.
While it’s not a particularly long book, trying to summarize it would be a fool’s errand. But one of its key messages, among many, is in essence that:
Your life is the sum of your decisions, not your circumstances. Things will happen to you, including plenty of things that you will not like, but you have the power to choose how to act in response to these events. The more proactive you choose to be, the better your life outcomes.
The most successful people I’ve ever met, and I’ve gotten to know plenty through my work, come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Many went to middle of the road colleges that the average person has never heard of (and never will). If you had taken a snapshot of each of them at age 22 and tried to project out their lives based purely on the hard data to that point, you’d never predict how successful they’d go on to become.
What they all have in common is something that goes beyond statistics. It’s a shared understanding that a proactive approach to life will always pay dividends. It sounds cheesy, but a literal “can-do” attitude will take you very far.
I believe in my heart that this is more important for success in one’s own life than virtually anything else. As soon as I embraced this idea, my life started swiftly moving up and to the right.
What’s more, I think people tend to overrate talent as a factor in success. This is not to say that talent doesn’t ever play a role, of course it does. But it won’t get you very far on its own.
People also think far too narrowly about talent. Everyone, and I really mean everyone, has something that they’re good at. For some it’s mathematics, for others it’s communication. Maybe you’re really, really good at organizing things. Btw, multi-million dollar companies exist around being organized…just as they do for almost anything else you might consider mundane and ordinary. (you would not believe how big the septic tank cleaning industry is)
No matter how obscure or seemingly run-of-the-mill, even marginal talents can take you somewhere when paired with the kind of growth mindset championed by The 7 Habits.
Meanwhile in the broader culture, the dominant paradigm is that whatever problems people find themselves facing are due to someone or something else. A system or a group or whatever cause du jour.
Deep down, I think everyone knows this is a lie. And it’s the conflict between this understanding within and the external messaging without that causes so many of our societal ills.
When the mind is dealing with two obviously conflicting ideas about reality, the healthy thing is to figure out which one is true and discard the other. If you don’t do this, you impose a burden on your brain. This is what’s known as cognitive dissonance.
Depending on the nature of the conflicting ideas — i.e. how big or obvious the conflict is — the burden can be substantial. Requiring ongoing mental gymnastics to manage the conflict while causing ongoing stress that can manifest itself in a number of ways. Including anxiety and depression.
I believe the broader culture is acting as a sort of mass engine of cognitive dissonance. The result of which is an all-time high in depression rates as of February 2023. Having increased steadily and substantially since 2015. And those baseline numbers weren’t exactly praiseworthy.
How can we fix this?