My husband and I just experienced a major plane fiasco. We ended up never making it to our destination and instead, were rerouted to two different cities before finally returning home 36 hours later. Our “trip” still cost us the airfare, meals, hotel and parking. It was a series of unfortunate events that was not of our choosing.
We’ve all been there. Finding ourselves in situations not of our choosing- when we have no control over what’s happening or the outcome. Often it is merely inconvenient and irritating but sometimes it is much more dire.
I think of a friend who died too young just 2 weeks ago. Ken Okoth was born in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya. Literally dirt poor, he was raised in a 10 x10 foot hut. He excelled in school and eventually “learned” his way out of the slum and poverty. He became a visionary leader and public servant to the highest degree. His life impacted thousands of others across the globe. Throughout it all, he chose gratitude and happiness. He chose to give back, championing the cause to empower women and children, becoming a Member of Parliament and serving his community. He chose to be an instrument of positive change in the world.
I remember talking with patients while nursing at The Shepherd Center. Conversations during the evening shift when the pace of life slowed down and thoughts ran deep. “How do you do it?” I would ask. “How do you have such a good attitude after all that has happened?” And I remember the collective response. They told me it was how they decided to respond to events in their lives- minor disappointments, setbacks and previous struggles. In the past, they had chosen to move on, they had chosen to meet adversity. It became part of their DNA in a sense and informed how they were able to live their best life. Facing their paralysis was just another example of choosing that grit and determination. It was a mindset, a choice they had made throughout their lives and one they had consciously made in their current situation.
In the book, Happiness is a Choice You Make, John Leland shares lessons learned from spending a year shadowing a group of elderly adults. He found that happy people didn’t have an easier or less complicated life than anyone else. Their secret was they learned to be happy despite their circumstances. It was a choice they made over and over again.
We may not always be able to choose our circumstances. There will be times when it feels as if we have been rerouted and will never make our destination- but we can always choose the way we respond. One of the tenets of Motivational Interviewing is acceptance. Acceptance of the inherent worth in another person and acceptance of their autonomy, recognizing their essential right to choose how they will live their life. It is nothing given or granted from someone else, it is something we all possess, this right to choose. Each day, each hour, each minute, the choice is ours to make. How do we choose to respond? These macro and micro choices impact the trajectory of our individual journey- they make a difference in the quality of our lives. It’s a choice we all get to make.