Life Is What We Make Of It

“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.”
John Ruskin

Life itself is a fairly neutral process. It does not pre-select some people for success and others for failure. It does not pre-determine who will be rich and who will poor. And it does not pre-destine some people to a life of happiness while it leaves others stuck with a life of sadness.

Life is pretty much a neutral process … coming to us one day at a time … and pretty much shaped by the choices we take and the decisions we make. TO A LARGE EXTENT, we create the life we live.

That’s right … “to a large extent.” I realize there are outside influences and unfair circumstances that come into our lives that are beyond our control. And I realize some people have more than their fair share of hard times and bad luck. But even in those situations, life is often what we make it.

So today I ask the question, “Why is it that life seems to be a JOYFUL ADVENTURE for some people … no matter how much bad happens? And why is it for others that life seems to be a PAINFUL STRUGGLE … no matter how much good happens?”

I’ve answered the first question … of how to make your life and work more joyful … in my book called “PIVOT: How One Turn in Attitude Can Lead to Success.” As Marnie Tornai, a Contract Specialist wrote, “Dr. Zimmerman, I wanted to personally thank you for being such an inspiration when you spoke at our U.S. Army conference. I have worked for the Government for 30 years and have heard many speakers during that time … and most of what they say is forgotten in a couple of days. Not you. Your presentation and your enthusiasm have made a lasting impression. I am now reading your ‘PIVOT’ book for the second time, with highlighter and notebook in hand, and making some much needed changes in my life. Thank you for what you do.”

But what about that second question? Why is it that some people live a life of painful struggle … no matter how much good happens? I think there are 5 ways people screw up their lives.

=> 1. Ignorance.

They misunderstand how life works. Somehow or other, they think life should be simple, easy, and fair, and when it’s not, they sink into depression.

By contrast, the Welsh got it right when they said, “There is no prosperity without adversity.” In other words, struggle is an inevitable part of life, and if you handle it well, you’ll be okay. In fact you’ll be very okay.

Despite this life truth, author Tim Connor says, “Some people will go to any length to avoid struggle and failure … I am not advocating failure for failure’s sake. I am suggesting, however, that without failure it is very difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish great things.”

The lesson from all this? If you want a life that is a JOYFUL ADVENTURE instead of a PAINFUL STRUGGLE, don’t waste your time trying to avoid all the struggles and discomforts that come into your life. That’s pure ignorance. Instead, take the time to work through the struggles and learn from them.

=> 2. Irresponsibility

Other people have more than their share of pain in life because they refuse to take responsibility. When something goes wrong or doesn’t work out the way they would like, they blame someone else or something else for their situation in life. After all, it’s a lot easier to kick someone else’s butt than kick their own butt into gear.

Unfortunately, the blame game never brings anyone any measure of joy in life. All it ever does is encourage someone to quit. And so we find millions of people bailing out of jobs, relationships and life in general. When things get a little tough or uncomfortable, when the results seem to be very slow in coming, the irresponsible ones say, “I’m outta here.”

And that’s too bad. The real joy in life comes from responsibility … from sticking to a cause … from getting up one more time than you fall down. Just ask any Olympic athlete. They’ll tell you.

Stick-to-ativity is one of the key pre-requisites for joy. But please, don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting you stick with an abusive relationship, or stick with a boss that constantly degrades you, or stick with a business that should have died and should have been buried a long time ago.

But I am suggesting this. If your automatic, knee-jerk reaction to a difficult time in the economy, a failed attempt at a new job, or a stressful time in a relationship is to bail out, you’re being irresponsible. You’re not doing all you could to change things for the better. And your chances of ever experiencing life as a JOYFUL ADVENTURE are very slim.

=> 3. Worry

You’ve only got so much energy, and if you waste a great deal of it on worry, you’re going to experience more than your share of painful struggle.

Of course, that makes sense if you understand the original meaning of the word. In ancient literature, worry was depicted as a wolf sinking his teeth into a person’s neck … literally cutting off the flow of life from the brain to the body.

In modern terms, it’s almost impossible to experience joy if you’re focused on worry. And yet some 85 to 90% of people worry about something on an almost constant basis. They worry about their health, their career, their finances, their future, their kids, their relatives, what other people think of them, and life in general.

If you want more joy, you CAN’T live that way, and you DON’T HAVE to live that way. That’s what Brenda Simmons, an Information Technology Specialist learned. As she wrote, “I attended your seminar at the Rock Island Arsenal on ‘Taking Charge: Motivating Yourself To Achieve More Than Ever,” and it was life changing.”

Brenda continued, “My son had recently died, leaving me with three other children. Worry took control of me. Every time the telephone rang, I panicked and wondered if I had lost another child. I know what the Word of God says about worry and how it tends to immobilize a person, but I could not stop. Then I purchased your CD on ‘Eliminating Worry’ at your seminar, and it has been a tremendous help to me. I am not completely worry free, but I have new ways of dealing with it. I no longer panic when my telephone rings, and when something does happen with my children, I react with concern rather than worry. Instead of being immobilized, I am motivated into action. I can’t wait for your next seminar.”

==> 4. Disappointment

Still other people live a life of painful struggle because they don’t know how to handle disappointment. They fail to see disappointment as a natural, inevitable part of life … the part of life where you want something but don’t get it.

And there’s nothing wrong with wanting certain things in life … a particular accomplishment … a special relationship … or a new start. It’s normal, healthy, and motivating.

It is not natural, however, to get EVERYTHING you want in life. As Connor puts it, “You can have almost anything you want — if you are willing to pay the price for it. But you can’t have everything you want! It’s just not that kind of world.”

He’s right. And the quicker you realize it, the less pain you’ll experience and the more joy you’ll have.

=> 5. Ego

Call it ego, pride, or arrogance. But the fact is … if you got too much of it, your life is filled with pain. After all, ego is nothing more than a camouflage for insecurity.

Oh sure, people with big egos LOOK like they’ve got it all together. They LOOK like they know it all. And they LOOK like they know what is best. But it’s all an act … an act to convince themselves … and hopefully others that they’re not as bad off as they really are.

Take Congress, for example. They’re elected to represent their constituencies, but once they’re elected, they often dismiss what their constituents want. They arrogantly pass bills or ramrod legislation their people detest, and then they wonder why their approval rating is at all-time low. They’re suffering from a bad case of egomania.

And as author and speaker Zig Ziglar said, “Egomania is a very strange disease. It makes everyone sick except the person who’s got it.”

Quite simply, arrogance and ego cannot co-exist with true joy and happiness … because arrogance and ego stifles communication and blocks relationship. And that’s easy enough to understand when you realize arrogance and ego comes out in the following behaviors: *the unwillingness to see another’s point of view, *the inability to listen well, *the need to be number one, *the need to be right, and *the unwillingness to admit wrong.

After all, who would ever want a relationship with a person like that … a person who is unwilling to admit wrong. It’s like the time David Dinkins, the mayor of New York City, was charged for not paying his taxes. Instead of admitting wrong, he egotistically responded, “I haven’t committed a crime. What I did was fail to comply with the law.”

If you want more joy, you’ll need less ego. You’ll need more honesty, more openness, and more vulnerability, and more transparency.

To pull it all together, life is a neutral process. If you experience it as a painful struggle, it’s probably due to some or all of the five factors above. But if you want to experience it as a joyful adventure you’ll avoid those five factors. The choice is up to you.

Action:  Which of the 5 blocks to joy is most prevalent in your life? And what are you going to do about it?