“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.”
Those empowering words, penned by Viktor E. Frankl, remove any excuse we might have for blaming anything about ourselves on our circumstances or experiences. They are especially powerful when we discover his insight came out of horrific circumstances of human suffering.
A holocaust survivor, Frankl witnessed first-hand the decisions his fellow prisoners made each day. Some thought only of themselves, doing whatever it took to stay alive. Others were selfless, giving comfort and encouragement to the hopeless. What little strength they had was used to strengthen others.
Some would argue what Frankl observed was nothing more than a person’s true character being revealed through hardship. While I do believe there is truth in that supposition, I also think there is more at play. There is the power of deciding who we will become.
We do this all the time – and we do it through how we choose to behave. According to William James, “No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one has not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better.”
Having noble ideals and intentions is worthless if not followed by equally noble behavior. There is no way around it. You must behave your way into the person you want to become.
Some use the idiom “fake it until you make it.” Although I understand its premise, I’m not at all fond of it. I don’t care how catchy a phrase it is, the word fake rubs me the wrong way in a big way.
To many, “fake it until you make it” simply describes the process whereby one acts as if they were confident in order to become confident. Yet, since it could also mean misrepresenting yourself to get ahead in your career, you won’t find me needlepointing it on a pillow. Instead, I prefer this: doing leads to being.
Not only does it remove all connotations of fraudulence, it also is just as powerful in reverse. Doing leads to being as much as being leads to doing. In many ways, they are inseparable.
Whether the heroes in the prison camps chose to love others in order to become loving, or because it was already part of their character, doesn’t really matter. What is important is that although their bodies were imprisoned, they didn’t allow the evil around them to imprison their hearts.
In exercising their freedom to love, they chose a different existence than the rest. Instead of becoming selfish, or accepting their fate in silent withdrawal, they reached out to ease the suffering around them. And I would expect by nourishing others, they were nourished themselves.
Your behavior determines who you will become. It also reflects the person you are today. None of us are perfect, but we are perfectly free to choose how we will exist in this world. In every moment we choose whether we will change or stay the same, expand or contract ourselves, develop our gifts or leave them dormant.
A reminder on my bathroom wall reads, “I am not the person I was yesterday.” And you know what? I’m not!
It’s not that I am struggling and striving, fighting and clawing, in hopes of achieving arduous goals of self-development. No. No. No. As I simply align myself with my Creator, I am seeing a deeper and truer version of myself unfold. And in the unfolding . . . I am becoming the person I was created to be.
For more on this topic, check out We are Always Practicing Something.