Solid words, solid foundation, solid catch phrase in one simple sentence. It conveys so much with so few words. It is like many catch phrases or popular sayings placed in quotes that have circulated through people’s lives for many years. Of course, new ones are added all the time.
As a result, popular catch phrases remain within the lexicon for generations, centuries, even. So it is with ‘Life is what you make it.’ It was first uttered to me while still in high school by a favorite priest, mentor, spiritual advisor, and all around decent human being, Fr. Etten. I was expounding on how my life was set in stone and the path I would take once high school was done. He interrupted me, casually, and said without any emotional attachment, in a clear, plain and simple tone, as matter-of-factually as possible: ‘Life is what you make it.’
Rethinking a Path
He had never spoken to me like that before. I was stunned. I was speechless, and blank of thought. What a giant piece of advice, from which I reeled like a football being kicked through the goal posts. I remember nothing else.
Those words rang in my head for what seemed like hours, when it probably was only a few moments. They up ended me, turned me over, turned me on my head, and shattered my thoughts of what my life was going to be.
No one was going to take care of me anymore. After high school, I was going to be on my own. My life decisions would belong to me and not anyone else. I was responsible for my life. OMG.
What would I do? What choices would I make? Where would I go? Does that mean I can’t get into college without a helping hand from anyone, especially my parents? You mean I need to find a way to structure my life and no one will do it for me?
Getting a Grip on Reality
Consequently, Reality was tapping my shoulder, and letting me know life was coming at me. I needed to take responsibility for every breath I breathed. Oh what a scary thought.
Because of this, my cradle was being rocked in a way I did not want to face. I was in shock for years, and buried that saying deep down inside and did not think about it.
One must pause here, and provide some clarity. There are certain events we have no control over. For example, weather; you can like or hate the weather, but you are powerless to control it, other drivers on the highway who veer into my lane, certain trends in society, technological advances, social events that occur whether we partake of them or not, etc.
Choices we make within those spheres belong to us, and what we do about them is solely our responsibility. I can chose to purchase an iPhone, or chose which school I go to, or chose how I respond to others within my circle. Because there are always those who sleepwalk through life.
Many people sleepwalk through life, some by choice and others through circumstance. Those who sleepwalk through life by choice let life assail them with different experiences. For example, their friends are going to a certain school, or going into military service, or getting a job right out of high school, so they decide to join their friends so they don’t look out of place or whatever. That’s sleepwalking by choice.
Others have parents who are rich or poor, or live a distinctly different lifestyle than most people. They continue in that life, thinking or believing it is the only life they can make or have. That’s sleepwalking through circumstance. Neither choice is the only one available.
Not sleepwalking by choice is being true to one’s self. For example, in the Air Force I took up photography as something to do in my off time. I bought a camera, learned to develop film and process prints. It became my life’s work because it was a path of satisfaction for me.
Therefore, I decided to learn more and go to school and educate myself in this process. Once I was through school and landed a job, I hardly ever felt it was work. It almost always was something I enjoyed doing.
It was a conscious choice, and one I have not regretted. As a result, I still feel naked if I do not take a camera with me somewhere. I am grateful for having a career like that. There are many people who have taken different paths and discovered it is not the path for them and still remain. Some people wake up.
Everything in my life that I control is my choice. From getting up in the morning, to what I have for breakfast, if I have breakfast, to what I wear, say, write, think, or do. It is all on me. We cannot blame others for our feelings. We must accept our own responsibility for all of our actions.
I am responsible for how I interact with others. Because no one can make me angry, sad, happy or funny or hateful, or any other emotion, unless I let that happen. I can push people away from me, or I can gather them closer. The choices I make in the way I communicate with others dictate how my life can be.
Oh yes, I forget this more times than I care to acknowledge. It is not too late to return to this admonishment: “Life is what I make it.”