“Life is not a substance, like water or a rock; it’s a process like fire or a wave crashing on the shore.. Our moments are brief against the expanse of eternity.” — Sean Carroll, The Big Picture
You are the master of your destiny. The slick war cry of the larger-than-life motivational speakers peddling self-empowerment to the lost. But even the powerful are not immune to the inevitable – illness, death, disaster. And as much as we’d like to congratulate ourselves on our seeming invincibility, I’m going to say something unpopular.
You don’t have as much control of your life as you think.
How else do you explain perfectly innocent people who do good things, follow all the rules and somehow still meet with tragedy or suffer a lifetime of hardship? Starving children, people delivered right into the heart of war, tragic accidents, natural disasters. Every one of us is at the mercy of a far greater force. For better or for worse, the hand you’re dealt in life is simply determined by a roll of the cosmic dice.
Now that bitter pill might cause a lump in your throat at first, but let it settle and you’ll find the idea quite liberating. Fortune is fickle. Whatever we enjoy today – love, comfort, a good life – is a gift that can be taken away at any minute. Once we stop trying to control the things that are beyond our reach, we can find the time and space to truly appreciate everything we have right this moment.
People always say, “Each time you fall, just dust yourself and get right up.” But what if life is one long free fall? Every day, we careen into the unknown. We make do with what we have, stumble with our limited knowledge in the direction of goodness, and hope for the best. But it doesn’t mean we’re helpless or passive. We can take charge of our happiness by cultivating a spirit of constant gratitude and compassion for others. That brings a deep, simple joy no one can take from you, however little you have.
Obsessing over taking complete control of your life or that of others is unchecked hubris. It can only lead to misery. It may sound counter-intuitive to accept our relative insignificance in the big scheme of things. But in time, it’ll actually give us a much more accurate benchmark for our expectations. And having realistic expectations of yourself and the world around you will bring you that often elusive peace of mind.
So when you find yourself struggling to stay afloat, stop thrashing. Instead, just lie back, go with the flow and enjoy the ride.