Warning: Tough love and blunt talk ahead.
Do you ever get that frustrated, stifled feeling that you’re … trapped?
In a relationship? A job? An apartment? A house? A friendship? A routine? A mindset? An income level?
I have some amazing news for you:
You’re not trapped.
I know it can feel that way. I totally know, because I’ve been there myself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen into the mindset of, “I wish I could do/have/be X, but I can’t, because Y.”
Here are some examples of things I’ve said to myself in the past few years:
“I wish I could have a bigger apartment, but I can’t, because it’s too expensive…”
“I wish I could lose 5 pounds, but I can’t, because it’s so much harder than when I was in my 20s …”
“I wish I didn’t have to go Do This Thing, but I’ve already committed, so I have to …”
Guess what: none of those things are actually true. Or at least not permanently true. It’s just that actually achieving the things I claim to wait can be hard or uncomfortable—much easier to simply deem them impossible. Then it’s not my fault I can’t achieve them, right?!
Or … I can hold up the mirror to myself and say, “LL, is it that you can’t achieve this? Or that it’s not as easy as you want it to be?”
Let’s take the first the first one: me wanting a bigger apartment. It was absolutely true. I couldn’t afford a bigger apartment at that moment, at my current income …because I was living in super expensive Manhattan. I finally had to admit that being able to afford a slightly bigger place and stop stressing about every single penny spent meant leaving Manhattan to move some place cheaper. So I did. It also meant giving up TV altogether for a few years so that I had more hours in the day to put towards money-making activities, so that I could return to NYC and have the bigger apartment. Did I want to leave Manhattan? No. Did I want to work to work 10+ hour days? Not particularly. But what I wanted was stronger than what I didn’t want. And yes, I realize that this definitely has an air of, “oh, poor princess had to leave Manhattan to get a bigger place boo-hoo,” but … that’s sort of exactly my point. Yes, it is a luxury to live in the middle of a glamorous city. And it took me awhile to realize it was a luxury I’d have to work really really hard for.
Now, let’s talk those pesky pounds. Yes. For me, keeping off weight is harder than when I was in my 20s. And I imagine it’ll be harder still in my 40s and beyond. But. I can lose the weight. I just have to decide that I want jeans that don’t dig into my belly more than I want that can of sour cream and onion Pringles. It just means setting aside my affection for bagels and cream cheese in favor of eggs and spinach in the mornings. It means one less glass of wine, saying no to the cookie, and having a smaller scoop of mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. It means using any extra 20 minutes chunk in my day to go for a quick run on the treadmill instead of a quick run to Starbucks.
And, full disclosure? I still haven’t mastered the art of saying “no, thank you” when I don’t want to do something. I frequently find myself choosing to do something I don’t want to do, rather than suffering the discomfort and guilt I get from of saying no. I’m working on it. But the point is, it’s my choice.
We’re in control of our own lives. If not of our circumstances (as with medical diagnoses or family or birth traits), then at least our mindset.
Most of the time, it’s not that something is impossible, it’s just that it’s hard, or has undesirable consequences.
I’m going to suggest a little tough love exercise.
Next time you hear yourself saying:
“I wish I could do/be X, but I can’t because …”
Instead, say this:
“I won’t do X, because I won’t/don’t want to because Y.”
It’s a small but crucial difference. It gives you your control back. It makes you in charge of your decisions, not the victim of the circumstances around you.
All the times you think you want to do something, but tell yourself you can’t? Be real with yourself. There are so few things in life that are actually, truly impossible. And a whole lot of other things that simply require trade-off; often times a trade off we aren’t willing to make (freedom, comfort, stability, peaceful relations with a family member, etc).
One of two things will happen when you change your language from can’t to won’t. You’ll either realize that really don’t want that thing as much as you thought you did, because it’s simply not worth the negative side effects. Or, you’ll realize that you do want it enough to take suffer those consequences.
You can quit your job and travel, you just need to decide if you’re willing to lower your lifestyle standards and find a new, perhaps unconventional, way to find shelter and food (#vanlife, anyone?)
You can leave your hometown, you just need to decide if it’s worth your family getting upset, and the discomfort of moving somewhere unfamiliar.
You can have more money to afford a nicer place and nicer things, you just have to be choose to spend your time starting up your business instead of binge-watching Game of Thrones.
You can finish that book, you just have to choose to stay home and write on a sunny day rather than go to the beach with friends.
You can work out more, you just need to do some research to find out what forms of exercise are compatible with joint pain, inflammation, asthma, etc.
Here’s a silly, but frequent example I keep encountering:
In the past year or so since I’ve left Facebook, I’ve probably heard about 20+ people tell me this: “I wish I could quit Facebook, but I can’t because …”
I admit, this statement gives me pause.
Anyone can quit Facebook. You just don’t want to. And I’m not saying you should want to! This is not a “Facebook is the devil, leave!” post. For what it’s worth, quitting Facebook wasn’t magically easy for me either. All the reasons these people don’t want to quit Facebook also went through my head for months before I pulled the trigger.
But bear with me for a second. What if instead of saying this:
“I wish I could quit Facebook, but I can’t because …”
Try saying this:
“I won’t quit Facebook because my platform’s not as big as I’d like, and I worry I won’t be able to reach readers and achieve my career goals.”
Or, if your reasons for feeling tied to Facebook are personal instead of professional, what if you said this:
“I won’t quit Facebook, because I won’t be able to easily see/like photos of my niece and nephew, and easily stay in touch with my extended family.”
Both of these may be totally true and totally valid (that’s up for you to decide!).
But by rephrasing to won’t instead of can’t, you’re taking your control back. You’ll either realize that yeah, Facebook isn’t perfect, but it’s worth it to you to be there because of the things you really want (to be a bestseller, to have a convenient way of staying in touch with family).
Or, once you realize what it is you really want (to stay in touch with readers and family), you’ll find yourself brainstorming alternatives to achieving those things; investing your time in Twitter or Instagram Live, or creating a shared photo album outside of Facebook for family photo sharing.
Again, not saying you should do those thing. Just that you could. There are always options, you just have to decide the best option. Plus, here’s a bonus: once you realize that you’re free to leave Facebook but are choosing to stay because of something important to you, you’ll be freed from whining about it!
(See, I told you this was a tough love blog post!)
Okay, enough about Facebook.
Let’s take my favorite “bucket list life” example, because it’s so extreme and fabulous.
What if you’re the adventuring type who might make a statement like this:
“I wish I could take a year to travel the world in a sailboat, but I can’t, because I’ve got school-aged kids to think about.”
Children are most definitely a top priority. So phrase it this way:
“I won’t take a year to travel the world in a sailboat, because I want my kids to have a ‘regular’ school year with their friends.”
And from there, couldn’t you take it even a step further? Isn’t what you’re really saying is that you don’t want to travel the world as much as you want to provide your children a stable, traditional upbringing?
“I want my daughter to spend third grade in Mrs. Rugby’s class, so she can be with her best friend Sara and play soccer on the Bumble Bees team.”
Doesn’t saying that feel better than bemoaning the sailboat?
Or, maybe by switching from can’t to won’t, you’ll discover something entirely different about what you really want. Maybe, by realizing that you’re the master of your own life, you think, “Wait a minute. I want to take a year to travel the world in a sailboat, and I want to homeschool my kids so that they can have once-in-a-lifetime experience to see new cultures.”
The point here is not that one sailboat decision is better than the other. They’re both valid, depending on your values. The point is, it’s your decision. No more of this, “Poor me, I can’t do what I really want most” nonsense. You are already doing what you really want most. Because if you wanted something else more, you’d be doing it.
Last example. Let’s take this age-old pipe dream:
“I wish I were a millionaire, but that’ll never happen, because I make minimum wage…”
Well, why not you? Tony Robbins did it. Oprah did it. Howard Schultz did it. To my understanding, none of them came from cushy, privileged backgrounds.
Are they exceptions? Sure. Just like you could be the exception!
And you know what? Oprah and crew didn’t get to their millionaire (billionaire?) status by saying things like, “I wish I could, but I can’t, because…”
Try on this phrase for size:
“I want to be a millionaire, but I won’t be, because it’s hard and I don’t want to take the risk and do the work.”
Doesn’t quite feel good, does it? Doesn’t feel quite as safe as “I wish I could, but I can’t.”
Does changing your stance from “I can’t” to “I won’t” at all light a little flicker inside you?
Does it make you sit up a little straighter and think, “Wait a minute. What if I did? What if I did take the risk and do the work …”
Because you can.
So. What will you decide today?