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Welcome to Your Crisis: How to Use the Power of Crisis to Create the Life You Want
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WHO ARE YOU?
A Recurring Question to Contemplate
Who are you? That simple question is far more profound than a first glance might suggest. Many people describe themselves in terms of their career (lawyer, carpenter, lab technician, NASCAR driver) or in terms of their relationships (wife, mother, best friend).
You are about to discover that how you define yourself largely determines not only how the world perceives you, but also how effective you are in that world.
Which brings us to your first exercise.
Exercise: Who Are You?
Without giving you any particular expectations, I’d like you to answer each of the following questions with one sentence: Who are you? Who were you before your last crisis? Who do you fear you are? Who do you wish you were?
You’ll want to refer to your answers in the coming days, weeks, and even years, so use the journal you’ve devoted to the exercises in this book.
As I mentioned, there are countless ways to approach the task of describing yourself. Here are two examples:
I am someone healing from knee surgery. I used to be a professional dancer. I guess now I’m someone who will never dance again. I wish I were healthy and able to dance.
I am an entrepreneur. I started a catering business when I lost my job in sales. I enjoy what I do, though sometimes the hours are brutal. I don’t have as much free time as I used to; I suppose that’s the trade-off for career autonomy.
Notice how you describe and define yourself. You are not, however, your self-description. You are not who you were. You are not your fears. You are not your wishes. You are a web of interdependent facts and feelings. If you confront these facts and feelings realistically and systematically, you will become someone you admire and your life will become something you treasure.
Your self-descriptions will change in the coming days, as you work through these chapters.
How You Define Yourself Determines Your Vulnerability
How we define ourselves determines, then, how vulnerable—or how resilient—we are to life’s changing fortunes.
The wrenching changes that we experience in our lives are often painful because we identify so completely with how we describe ourselves. We identify with how we are defined by the structures around us: by our jobs, our relationships, our families, our successes. If we are fortunate we gain a better sense of our connection to others and to the world around us as we get older, and we begin the process of integrating ego into something that extends infinitely beyond it.
This concept is important because the crises in your life attack the very core of your sense of self. It is easy to understand how a person who identified herself, say, as a wife would feel that her life were over when her marriage ended. A successful young entrepreneur loses her company. Who is she now?
Transforming your sense of self enables you to rise above life’s challenges—indeed, doing so enables you to use these same challenges to enrich your self-worth and your potential in life to enjoy, create, and achieve.
As long as you cling to a narrow definition of yourself, you are vulnerable to any number of crises. Your self-concept is especially elusive when you are experiencing a major life change: you are no longer who you were, but you are not yet who you are becoming.
The importance of knowing who you are applies not just to individuals but also to groups, organizations, and companies. A company will begin its life providing one product or service, but when the world changes, the company’s belief about what is important—the company’s sense of self and identity—has to change as well. How ironic that Steven Jobs, the man who cofounded Apple as a computer company—only to be forced out—would return to lead Apple’s rebirth as one of the world’s premier consumer electronics companies.
You Are an Ecosystem
You will find it helpful to think of yourself not as an isolated being but as a vast ecosystem.
Consider a natural ecosystem and its enormous web of interconnected parts. The myriad parts of any ecosystem are intimately interrelated, woven into a complex, yet fragile, system.
That system is in dynamic balance; any minor fluctuations are easily absorbed by the system. Sometimes something from outside the ecosystem alters it dramatically. A new predator species arrives. A persistent drought exhausts the ecosystem’s water supply.
Such disruptions are not readily absorbed but rather reverberate throughout the entire ecosystem. One species dies out, threatening the survival of another species that had depended on the first. A third species, previously preyed upon by the first, multiplies wildly. And so on.
Eventually balance will reestablish itself, of course, but the ecosystem will never be the same.
A tiny shift in perception or behavior can create monumental changes in the internal dynamics that you call your life.
We have all had the experience of being in a darkened theater when an exit door unexpectedly opens, flooding the darkness with light and transforming our perception of our surroundings and our place within those surroundings. We often live our lives avoiding those rays of light for fear of what they will illuminate, sometimes through small shifts in our growth or behavior and often through the imposition of others or of outside events. When that happens we must adjust to a new ecosystem and our new position within it.
Outer Changes Require and Reflect Inner Changes
Change is also difficult because we often attribute it to bad luck, to unconscious personal shortcomings, or to external forces beyond our knowledge or control. In other words we often refuse to take any responsibility for the major changes and upheavals that occur in our lives.
Some changes are beyond our direct control, such as a random act of violence or a random act of nature. Our response to any change, however, is within our control. Our response to a change is a powerful agent in how that change plays itself out in our lives.
Why do resolutions fail? On New Year’s Eve, people across the world prepare to start their lives afresh. A new year; a new life. They prepare their New Year’s resolutions with great optimism and anticipation, welcoming in another new year with a list of challenges that they have failed at repeatedly in the past.
The next morning they awaken with the commitment that they will break a lifetime of habits in one day. They will lose ten pounds. Become successful. Find true love. Improve their marriages. Stop procrastinating. Get their tempers under control. Spend more time with their children. Making resolutions is comforting; all is well with the world.
The only problem, as we secretly know, is that this approach to behavior modification does not work. Indeed, setting ourselves overwhelming tasks is a formula for failure and self-hatred. We form our habits and behaviors over a lifetime. We become passionately attached to even the most unfulfilling ways of being merely because they are familiar. What makes us think, despite all our experiences to the contrary, that merely resolving to change leads to enduring change?
Many people find achieving lasting change difficult because they focus on the wrong “side of the equation.” Something as practical as losing weight, for example, is not simply a physical change, but rather an outward reflection of an inner change your self has undergone. Most weight-loss plans fail because the person involved views the change—weight loss—as the process itself rather than the result of a process. The process of any lasting weight loss occurs when we become a person who does not need to overeat, a person who seeks to be active rather than sedentary, a person who fills her needs in ways other than through eating.
Losing weight, then, is merely the product of changing your self. Take a moment to grasp fully the importance of this truth. Outer changes reflect inner changes. To achieve in the world whatever you want—whether it is losing weight or gaining a promotion—focus on the inner changes you need to make, and the outer changes will follow naturally and inevitably.
Your every experience programs your response to future experiences, until you choose the experiences in the world that confirm a particular belief system. One way to define yourself, then, is in terms of your beliefs.
Sometimes you misjudge the world, and your core beliefs are challenged, if not shattered. A man you thought was going to be with you forever moves to another city. Your company eliminates your position. You experience a car accident. Sometimes you encounter a major, unexpected change.
Notice that when your reality challenges your beliefs, and confronts you with the possibility that you will give up those beliefs, you feel betrayed. All loss creates a sense of betrayal.
When loss or other upheaval ruptures your beliefs, you no longer exist in the same way—but you are provided with the possibility of a new beginning.
Regarding the world around us, our beliefs can act as spotlights, but they can also act as blinders. Our beliefs hide any fact that threatens them and highlight any fact that justifies or reinforces them. Our belief systems, that is, excel at self-defense! We all have our blind spots—especially about anything that challenges who we think we are and what we’ve based our lives on.
Crisis occurs because our beliefs are so challenged that they no longer have these boundaries in place. We are thrown into a search for new beliefs on which to pattern our actions and base our lives.
The great spiritual leaders throughout history had their beliefs so challenged that their entire beings were transformed. In allowing themselves to be transformed, they created brilliant examples for others to follow.
One of the joys of raising children is experiencing how their intellects grow not in small steps but in large leaps. At four, my son believed that his mother had all the answers. Mommy was truth. Then one day—truly one particular day; I remember it vividly—he realized that Mommy didn’t have all of the answers. On this day his wisdom began. Now, as a teenager, he thinks he has all the answers. But as he grows into an adult, this phase of unshakable certitude will change, too. (“No it won’t,” he says. “Yes it will,” I reply, patiently yet firmly. “You don’t know anything,” he counters. I bide my time.)
You are who you believe you are. You live in the world you believe you live in. Your beliefs frame and support everything you see in the world as well as your impulses and motivations. When you can no longer verify that reality, when your beliefs or your conditions no longer allow you to function effectively—you experience crisis.
I was thirty-five years old when my husband and I began our divorce. My son was two. Although my husband and I had been separated since my pregnancy, divorce litigation was a frightening new world.
When I was going through my divorce, I met a group of women in the courtroom halls where we spent our days in the costly and barbaric process of a divorce trial. To ensure that we retained custody of our children, we had to prove to a stranger—the judge—that we were viable human beings without our husbands, even if we personally had our doubts. We had to appear self-sufficient, remaining solid and unshaken in the face of accusations that even tabloids would be reluctant to print.
In reality we were all so beaten down by the demands of being single parents, of enduring the soul-crushing court processes, of paying our lawyers, and of being on the short end of the paycheck that we did not believe we amounted to much at all. Our formerly secure, sometimes even affluent, lives had been ruptured beyond repair. We were living in the garbage dump of our former lives.
At some point in the interminable divorce process, however, something “clicked” in all of us—a palpable, visceral change. Ironically, we had become so used to faking courage and self-sufficiency that we began to believe in and embody those traits! As our beliefs changed, we had the courage to call employers for jobs, to manage our lawyers differently, and to try to use our talents to succeed. As our beliefs about ourselves changed, we were able to capitalize on the opportunities around us.
I am still amazed that our personal transformations happened to us as a group, almost simultaneously. Nobody could look at any of us today and imagine us as the fragile, frightened, dependent women we had been not so long ago, waiting for our cases to be heard.
In moments when we are required to adapt to change, our treasured internal responses and patterns—which supported us to this point—can become the barrier between us and success. New Year’s resolutions fail because we make a list of changes we require of ourselves without addressing the many interconnected parts of the ecosystem in which they exist. People who need to lose weight or find better jobs or improve their relationships need to change something in their ecosystem—their patterns, surroundings, perceptions, or relationships—from which the goal is a natural and sustainable result.
When your beliefs change but your life does not change with them, you end up living a shadow life, striving to maintain your beliefs in a life and world you no longer inhabit. Consider Karen’s story.
Karen was an advertising genius. She could find a way to package dirt and make you want to buy it. People around her always complimented her work, but she was clear she cared nothing about her work or her considerable talent. All she wanted to do was to marry, raise a family, and have someone take care of her. These needs meant everything to her.
Unfortunately, her relationships were a disaster. She always picked inappropriate or unavailable men. From month to month she was either euphoric about falling in love or devastated about having lost it. Many less-talented people received the promotions and the projects that would have displayed her gifts. Many less-lovely women married and had families. A single, anxious, thirty-nine-year-old, Karen was not fulfilling her potential either in work or in love. By putting her gifts at the “nothing end” of the spectrum and her domestic fantasy at the “everything end,” she had disempowered herself to realize either potential.
Everything in your life should have importance; nothing should be worthless.
To Change Your World, Change Yourself
Einstein’s principle of relativity revolutionized how scientists view the universe and ultimately led to the discovery of atomic power. But the principle of relativity is more than a tool for scientists: it is a powerful thinking tool we can all use. This perspective will revolutionize how you view yourself and will give you untold power to shape your universe.
You are not a single, unrelated speck of energy. You create a field of energy, relationships, and outcomes. If your world changes, you change. The relativity principle tells us that this dynamic works the other way, too: if you change yourself, your world changes—the universe changes.
If you want to change your world, then, start by changing yourself. When you change, you transmit the changes to your world and shift the dynamic of everything in the universe. You and your circumstances are changing right now, as you read the words on this page.
In taking these steps, we change the universe of which we are part. To change your world—change yourself. The reverse is also true: when you master yourself, you master your environment.
Excerpted from Welcome to Your Crisis by Laura Day. Copyright © 2006 by Laura Day. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.