When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. — Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning
Actor Jim Carrey was 15 years old when he found himself in a situation where he was supporting his family while they lived in a van. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was 39, he developed polio, and his partial paralysis restricted him to a wheelchair. One of my personally favorite stories is of a lady by the name of Kris Carr, who was diagnosed with a rare cancer when she was only 32.
These three people are a small example of Frankl’s words. They couldn’t change their situations, but they were able to challenge themselves to make changes.
Carrey is one of the top comedic actors in the United States today, FDR is one of the most memorable presidents of the United States, and Carr … wow. Kris Carr challenged herself and her disease and is alive more than 10 years later thriving in a body still housing her cancer. Shifting out of their situations into life full speed ahead, they teach us what we need in order to live our own powerful lives.
My first car was a pale yellow Volkswagen. It had a manual transmission, which meant I would sit at the light at the top of the hill on West Lincoln Street with one foot on the clutch, one foot on the accelerator and one hand on the gearshift ready to pounce on the space in front of me when the light turned green. It was an art to be able to drive a stick shift and not kill the engine at that light.
As Frankl talks about our situations that cannot be changed, so was the hill that never lost its steep pitch, as I sought to hold a steady balance between accelerating and sitting still. As long as I stayed on that hill, keeping the pedals equally pressed, I was not moving forward. Sometimes we have to gun it to get out of the spot we are in — out of the situation that will never change.
Is your changeless situation one of feeling bullied or controlled? Whether you are 14 or 94, feeling and being bullied can happen. In the school hallway, at home, in the board room and in the church pew, you can feel afraid and controlled by other people. Social media has made that an even truer statement.
Are you sinking in a pit of debt and see no way out? Do you feel like your situation is just never going to change? It can be suffocating to feel so overpowered by the result of spending choices that might have been necessary at the time.
Do you look like a perfectly healthy person while suffering with an invisible disease? Diabetes, depression or deafness could belong to the person you are standing beside in the line to renew those vehicle tags, or they could be plaguing you. By all appearances, you are “normal,” but your body in one way or another is betraying you and leaving you in a situation that won’t change.
Any of these scenarios will require the same things of their “victim” that our first three examples had: A great attitude of determination, a voice to speak and a will to act differently.
Imagine if Jim Carrey had sat quietly with his homeless family; if FDR had resigned himself to a meaningless life in his wheelchair, a victim of polio; or if Kris Carr had chosen to accept her probable sentence of death and do nothing. Each of these people shifted into gear, spoke up and took action, and that is what you and I must be willing to do if we don’t want be stuck in a situation that will never change.
In your changeless situation, you will need to adjust your attitude. You might face criticism and doubts by others, but you can develop tools to help yourself mentally stay out of the thinking that you are stuck in that place.
In a situation that can’t be changed, at least not immediately, you need a voice. When other voices tell you that you are as unable to change as your situation is, your own voice must be able to utter the words to your mind that you are not your situation. Only if you are willing to speak above others’ voices will you be able to live differently.
In a situation out of your control, you must be willing to go into action. You can have a great attitude and lots of self-talk, but if you aren’t willing to step out of your situation, you will be sitting there forever. Carr is a great example of this, in my opinion, as she has become educated about keeping her body as healthy as she is able, and she has chosen to share that message with tens of thousands of readers.
Sitting on the hill at the light, cars were in front of me and behind me. Popping the clutch and gunning the accelerator too much could send me flying into the car ahead, while not enough accelerating would send me rolling backward. There was a lot of fear for a driver in trying to conquer the hill, the situation that wouldn’t go away or change.
It took a determined attitude, hearing my own voice of encouragement instead of the doubting voices scaring me about failing, and definite action. I made it through that traffic light many times, and shifting into a more successful life requires the same of me and of you.
Whether you are being held captive by another person, as Frankl was, or being held captive by homelessness, impairment, or disease, you can challenge yourself to change when your situation will not.