Too many of us hate our jobs.
Too many of us dread Mondays, and start yearning for the weekend the second our head hits the pillow on Sunday night.
Too many of us have settled for a monthly paycheck and a routine existence, resigning ourselves to our comfort zone, a gilded cage that creates the illusion that we have no other choice.
But we always have a choice. A truth that can be difficult to admit, because it implies that we are responsible for the things that happen in our lives.
Feeling sad is a choice. Doing nothing is a choice. Binge watching Netflix on your sofa is a choice. Staying in the same dead-end job is a choice. Giving up on your dreams is a choice.
We may not be able to control everything that happens in our lives, but we do get to choose how we respond. And that means more.
The most critical choice any of us has to make is the role we play in our lives. Are we a spectator or the protagonist? Reactive or proactive? A victim or the driving force?
Hunter S. Thompson once wrote that a man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance. Put differently, if you don't take control of your life, your life will take control of you.
Change happens all the time, whether we intentionally create it or not. Time passes just the same whether we are moving or standing still. Every one of us has a choice in how we make use of the passing time. We get to decide whether we are creating change or always responding to it.
Make no mistake, you can only ever be on one side of the ‘cause or effect’ equation.
When you are part of the cause, you are empowered. You are the master of your destiny. You learn from every decision, no matter the outcome, because you take responsibility. You view feedback constructively and change your behavior to get different results. You are always learning and growing. Life is an exciting adventure.
When you are only experiencing the effect, on the other hand, it’s like sailing a ship that's being pushed to an unknown destination by the wind and the tide. You are in an unresourceful state, forever reacting to - and making excuses for - the things that happen to you. You cannot learn or grow. Life becomes a torturous marathon to be endured, not enjoyed.
Too many of us have chosen to be the victims of our circumstances. Too many are on the effect side of life. Prisoners inside a comfort zone that is making us miserable.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in our career choices.
We spend almost half of our waking hours working, yet most of us are unhappy at work. And if we are unhappy at work, we are likely to be unhappy in life. The importance of our career choices cannot be understated.
The regret starts before we have even entered employment. Most college students would change their major or college if they could do it all over again.
This shouldn’t be that surprising. After all, how many of us truly knew what we wanted to do at the age of eighteen? How much real-life experience had we accumulated by then?
And somehow, we’re expected to make a choice that could define the rest of our lives.
For many of us, our college degree is a lifelong sentence. It determines our first job, which often determines how we spend the rest of our careers.
In a survey run by Indeed last year, only half of respondents had ever made a dramatic career shift. That means half stayed in the same occupation throughout their life.
Those that mustered the courage to change careers did so at an average age of 39. And almost 90 percent of them were happier since they made the move. That’s a high success rate for a life altering decision. Higher than the happiness produced by getting married or having children.
However, it is troubling that even the bravest among us needed an average of 18 years from when they entered the workforce to take the leap. That’s 18 years invested in a career they didn’t enjoy. 18 years of missed opportunities. 18 years spent not living their best life.
How much happier would these people have been had they switched sooner or started out in their preferred career? How much more successful could they have become later in life?
Bear in mind we’re still talking about the ones that decided to take control. What about everyone else, who have spent their entire lives settling for a career path that doesn’t fulfill them?
Changing careers is hard. It involves foregoing a steady paycheck and familiar lifestyle to enter the unknown. It requires a willingness to leave behind earned status and start from the bottom in another arena. It is even harder when you have responsibilities, like a family or student debt.
But, having responsibilities doesn’t mean you don’t have a choice. You don’t even need to leave your job to change careers. You can start pursuing your passion in parallel. The Internet has made our dreams more accessible than ever before.
Following your heart is a choice like any other. If you want it badly enough, you will choose to give it your best shot. You will work on your novel after hours. You will use your weekends to write that business plan. You will shape time around your schedule.
But, when you don’t even try, you’re really choosing to give up on your dreams.
And when you're near the end of your life and you look back on it, what are you more likely to regret? Staying in a career that never fulfilled you or taking a risk and following your heart?
What example would you want to set for your children or grandchildren? Would you want them to follow their dreams or settle for the comforts of a mediocre existence?
Try this thought exercise.
Picture yourself looking back at your life in your twilight years. Imagine yourself surrounded by a group of impressionable children, staring up at you with eyes wide open. One of them asks you to share the most valuable lessons you’ve learned over the course of your life.
Had you lived on the cause side of life, you would take pride in the fact that you created your own memories, and, even when you made mistakes, you would have valuable lessons to share and exciting stories to recount.
You would enjoy peace of mind knowing that you followed your heart. You would regale tales of joy, sadness, and adventure, and keep those children busy for hours, with all the wisdom you acquired from all the different choices you made.
However, had you lived on the effect side of life, those excuses you made, those reasons you offered for the things that happened to you, would mean nothing. All you'd be left with are other people's stories, a vacant picture of a life filled with regret for all those times you didn't follow your heart, all those moments you went with the flow, a spectator to your own fate.
Your memory of your career would be blurred into a single daily routine, copied and pasted for the thirty to forty years you spent in jobs you didn’t really enjoy.
And what lessons would you have to share? What would you say to those wide-eyed children looking to you for wisdom?
Odds are the only meaningful advice you would have for them is to follow their heart and be on the cause side of life, so they don't experience the same regret you did.
The good news is that you are in control of what you see when you reflect on your life in the future. You can still choose to be the driving force instead of a passenger. It’s never too late.
To paraphrase a famous playwright, you can be a coward and die many times before your death, or be valiant and only experience death once.
Rather than ask if you’ll follow your heart, my question is an even simpler one:
How many times will you choose to die?