Did you ever wake up one day and wonder how you got to where you are in life? It can sometime seem as if life has ‘happened’ to us – we don’t remember actively choosing the path we have taken. It is like the river of life has swept us along in a particular direction while we fell asleep in our raft.
Existentialist philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre claim that we are free. There are many contingencies that impinge on this freedom, but ultimately, we are free, autonomous beings who create our lives through the choices and decisions we make and the actions we undertake.
There are many things that happen to us, that we have no choice in: the time and place we were born into; Our family and social background; External events, other people etc. But ultimately it is within our power to decide what we do with all of this, how we are to act and respond in the face of the ‘given-ness’ of life.
Every day of our lives we make hundreds of decisions that accumulate, and over the course of a life time, create our destiny.
We have agency. We are the architects, the authors of our lives. There is great power in this, but so too great responsibility. It means that there are no excuses. It is up to us. Whatever way our lives play out is not the result of circumstance, other people, fate or the gods, but us, and us alone.
If we don’t like how our lives have turned out, unfortunately, if we are honest, we have to realise that it is of our making. This may be a grim truth to face. But it is also liberating – it means that from now on we can choose differently: We can begin to create a life that we love.
The issue is that often we are blind to the choices and decisions we constantly make, viewing them as things we ‘have’ to do. Like for example when the alarm clock goes off in the morning and we get up and go to work, we are making the choice to do that. There is no external agency forcing us. We are making that choice, and many other choices throughout the day, that shape our life.
Now, of course, there are consequences to our actions. If we choose not to get up in the morning we have to accept that there are consequences for that action – or inaction – which we are then responsible for. But the point is that we must first recognize, that in everything we do, we have power – we are the one ‘doing’ our life, we are making these choices of our own free volition.
It doesn’t mean you necessarily have to stop doing the things that you are doing, but it does mean that we begin to recognize the power we have over own lives. It is empowering to know that we are in control in this way. We can then begin to consider if the decisions we are making are in the service of our highest possibilities and potential – if they are consistent with who we are in our deepest authenticity.
If they are not, it is time for a change.