You’re in Charge so Take Charge

Please don’t let life happen to you

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Photo by BBH Singapore on Unsplash

Defiant stubbornness can bring you back to life.

Born from urgent necessity and extreme adversity, defiant stubbornness is the force within that comes from not having anyone but yourself to rely on. When you’re left holding your own hand, you’re toast if you let go so you find a way to hang on, be it only reflexively.

Although I’ve never not had health insurance, I wasn’t able to access much-needed therapy in the US because I could never afford the co-pays. Courtesy of major depressive disorder, I spent five years mired in suicidal ideation.

Against all odds, I chose to live even though I no longer remembered how to.

I’ve had to relearn everything, including how to do my job and how to relate to fellow humans.

I’m still not quite there yet; I keep finding forgotten pieces of my identity and remembering things on a daily basis. Sometimes memories hit me with the force of a renegade freight train; this is the power of critical distance, which I desperately needed.

I left the US and came back to the continent that grew me some eight months ago, recovering the many cultural and linguistic assets I had set aside.

Although arduous, this transition process has been life-affirming and the transformation is still ongoing.

“You’ll change in Europe,” a friend had warned me back in November 2018 when I booked my ticket. Little did I know how right they were or how full of love, joy, and laughter my life would become, the complete antithesis of what came before.

Even in the face of life-threatening illness.

Being thrust into a situation where inertia, apathy, and self-pity aren’t options makes you approach life creatively.

Since September 2018, my parents have been navigating the increasingly complex and unpredictable reality of Stage IV cancer. Out of three chemotherapy protocols, only the first one worked; the fourth starts in two weeks.

Abandoning my father and stepmom in their hour of need isn’t an option, and neither is bailing on anyone who entrusts me with assignments and collaborations while I continue to rebuild a life that works, word by word.

My present may be challenging, messy, and restless, it’s also powered by an uncompromising dedication to my craft and to my loved ones as well as the kind of unwavering love and support that makes you feel like anything is possible.

Most importantly, my present is a gift I was never supposed to receive and much less unwrap.

As Portuguese socialite Lili Caneças — a noted tautologist and accidental wit — is famous for saying, “Being alive is the opposite of being dead.”

Although the phrase is a national joke in Portugal, she does have a point.

No productivity hack can ever replace elbow grease.

Similarly, motivation means nothing unless it translates into actions and consistency over a set period of time.

In my case, motivation blends into vocation, which drives me; I never have to question why I do what I do, only how I do it.

Back in the spring, I wrote a piece while taking micro naps between paragraphs because I refused to go to sleep before it was done. Thanks to years of journalism, I never lost the narrative thread nor did the final copy contain typos.

But it remains a singular, eye-opening, and disturbing experience I don’t think I want to repeat.

I had no idea I could that until I did it, and I’m not sure I wanted to find out, either.

But as long as it remains necessary, I’ll keep doing things in a non-standard way, like copy-editing a literary manuscript in the middle of the night to meet a deadline.

While my exhaustion levels are well-documented and cause me to break down every now and then, committing to a deadline means meeting it, whatever it takes.

The willingness to hold yourself accountable and be held accountable for your work is key; without it, nothing gets done.

Accountability is how you keep moving forward despite obstacles, be they perceived or real.

Although the parameters vary, many of us are holding today together the best we can so we might build tomorrow upon it.

We’re not special, we’re not heroes, we’re just normal, regular folks who refuse to be defeated by circumstances.

Whether or not we admit it, we’re all flying blind and no one really has a clue how to do life. Some obsess about getting to their destination as fast as possible and favor shortcuts, others are keeping their eyes closed, paralyzed by the magnitude of the task at hand. The rest of us, meanwhile, are simply trying not to crash.

This is when grit comes in. As psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth wrote in Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance:

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future day in day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon; not a sprint.”

You may not know how gritty you are but you can find out through this anonymous test, which will help Duckworth with her research.

What if what mattered most wasn’t where we land but how to stay aloft without running out of fuel until the fog clears and visibility improves? And no, we don’t need to know where we’re going, we just a general direction.

Life is a series of long-haul flights and sometimes taxiing can be as important as take off or landing. Never beat yourself up for taking the time to figure out what works for you. You don’t want to end up on the wrong flight, headed for a destination you never chose and where you might get stranded.

You can be a passenger in your own life or you can be the pilot.

Choose one: Anyone can learn to fly.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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