Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Whenever you feel anxious, worried, inadequate, helpless, or overwhelmed, let this be your mantra: to make the best out of every situation and do the best you can with what you're given.

Repeat your mantra. Let it be your prayer, your incantation, your spell of protection.

Nothing else matters. Everything else is superfluous. Here's why.

The things in your life can be divided into three categories: the stuff that's completely outside of your control, the stuff that's partially in your control, and the stuff that's entirely in your control.

If an asteroid slams into the earth right now, for example, that's out of your control. Likewise, if a tornado comes screaming through your neighborhood, or if an earthquake brings your house down on your head, or if the global economy crashes, you can't do anything to stop it.

99.999999% of the universe is unknown and the .000001% we know about is mostly random chaos. Don't waste energy worrying about what might happen, or what has already happened. Instead, recite your line: do your best with what you're given.

People around the world experience natural disaster, war, poverty, and disease on a daily basis. How do they deal with such hardships? They mourn. They endure. They pick up the pieces. They march through horror, oppression, and atrocity. But more importantly, they persevere.

They do their best with what the universe has given them, even when what they've been given sucks. Some people get dealt a terrible hand right off the start. Others never get to play their cards because some warlord comes in and butchers their entire family or a tsunami sweeps everyone they knew into the sea.

Did these people worry beforehand? Would it matter if they did? No. What matters is that bad stuff went down and they dealt with the situation as best they could.

Now some things can be harnessed but not fully controlled. They can be tamed, sometimes briefly, sometimes barely, and be made to work for you. These things are fleeting and fickle. They are never completely secure in your grasp, so if you start to depend on them for a sense of self or happiness, you're definitely going to be bummed out sooner or later.

If you apply for a job, for example, you can partially control the outcome. Your appearance, mannerisms, and words can all contribute to your getting the gig. You have control over those things.

The person interviewing you, on the other hand, is a wildcard. You cannot predict with any real accuracy how they will perceive you. Certainly dressing the part and being prepared are good ways to stack the deck in your favor, but what if you remind your future boss of someone they despise? What if you make an offhand comment that somehow offends them? What if they don't like your cultural background, belief system, way of speaking, tone of voice, or any other number of things you can't anticipate?

The key in these types of situations is to identify the things you control and focus all your energy into them. Everything else is merely a distraction that will throw you off the only mission that counts: using the tools at your disposal to deal with each situation as it comes, without trepidation, dread, anger, or bitterness.

So what do you control, anyway? 

The thoughts in your head, the words that come out of your mouth, and the actions you take; those are the only things you have full control over.

That's it. Everything else is either only partially in your control or completely outside of it.

By focusing your energy into the things you can control, you do what everyone else is doing--the best they can--only better. We all cope with tragedy, misfortune, illness, and irritations, only most of us do it poorly and on a subconscious level. We let our conscious mind get bogged down with useless thoughts ("I wish this person were alive again;" "I wish the pain would go away;" "why does this always happen to me?") when we should be putting it to work on the one thing that matters: the present moment.

Overcoming whatever challenge is in front of you. Making the best out of a bad situation. Learning from past mistakes and moving forward without emotional luggage.

Doing the best with what you're given means taking the hand you were dealt--your biological, cultural, and personal identity, all of which was formed without your consent--and honing it to a fine edge. It means constantly working at being the best possible you there is, weeding out flaws, irrational beliefs, judgments, and biases, while fortifying your best qualities.

You may not be able to control much, but by controlling what you can--yourself--you're doing the next best thing. You're inoculating yourself against the external world. No matter what happens, whether death, disaster, misfortune, failure, betrayal, or loss, you know that you have done everything in your power to prepare for and deal with it optimally.

You'll still grieve. You'll still know moments of frustration, anger, and spite. But you will have a tight leash on such emotions. You will be able to dismiss them back into the basement at a moment's notice.

And suddenly, your sense of self-worth and happiness will cease to depend on external conditions. You will learn to do as Seneca said, to praise the quality within yourself, the quality "which cannot be given or snatched away, that which is peculiar" to you and you alone.

Each one of us is riding the same wave--the present moment--as it rushes forward; behind this wave is the past and before it, the future. Only the present moment is yours and it will sweep you along helplessly unless you learn to ride it. If you master yourself you will become like a surfer, carving a path along the wave's edge and taking it where you wish.

Remember your mantra. Make the best out of every situation; do the best with what you're given. Focus on the things within your grasp and watch as the universe bends to your will.

/rant over

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