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Gut-Check & Self-Direction

By Philip Humbert

"I don't worry about the storms, I am learning to sail my own ship." ~ Louisa May Alcott

By natural inclination, and as a professional coach, one of my concerns is to monitor the environment in which we live and strive to achieve our goals. While the world around us cannot control our behavior or our outcomes, it can definitely impact our productivity. I think it's time we talked and thought seriously about these things.

First, I want to repeat that circumstances do not and cannot control our behavior. We've all heard of unusually "resilient" kids. These are children who grow up in miserable surroundings, perhaps with bad schools or dangerous neighborhoods, and yet somehow, they flourish and do well. They stay out of trouble, get an education, work hard and over-come it all.

The good news is that we are all incredibly resilient. We've all over-come hardships and frustrations. We bounce back! In small ways, we do this every day. But it is also true that a poor or destructive environment can slow us down, distract or confuse us. While a beautiful environment energizes and supports us, a bad one makes everything harder. And I think that for many of us, these are difficult times.

The U.S. and most of the world's economy has been limping out of recession for several years now. There have been wars and rumors of war for a long time—many of us cannot remember a time when war hasn't been part of the daily news. In the U.S., our political leaders cannot agree on what day of the week it is, to the point that now there is talk of the government shutting down for lack of a budget. These are trying times! But it's not the first time we've been stressed. About 235 years ago, Americans were also going through difficult times. In the depths of our Revolution, Thomas Paine wrote a little tract that has inspired men and women ever since. He wrote:

"THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly."

Paine went on to remind the cold, hungry, often bare-foot patriots that they had a choice. They could quit, go home, and hope for better times surrounded by family and friends. Or, they could stay the course, endure the winter, and eventually triumph.

The title of Paine's series of pamphlets was, "The American Crisis." In a sense, I think our economy, our politics, our rapidly changing world combine to create a modern-day sense of crisis for many of us. And we face a similar choice. We can be creative, courageous, determined and resilient, or we can hunker down, try to mind our own business and wait for better times.

The problem, of course, is I'm not sure things are going to get better, at least in terms of the speed of change. Our world is going to be confusing, conflicted and difficult for a long time to come. So, we need to either get used to "interesting times" and overcome them, or try to find a nice quiet shelter from the storm and settle for whatever "normalcy" we can find.

For me, the choice is obvious. I've rarely been one to "settle." I'm a trouble-maker. I like to stir things up, try things, set my own course and run my own life. Sometimes that leads to trouble and a certain look on my wife's face (with which I am, unfortunately, far too familiar!) but it definitely keeps things exciting.

My advice is to set your own course. Check your heart and your dreams, then resolve to create your own destiny and live the life you truly want. Will the economy create headwinds and cross-currents? Of course! Will there be problems and disappointments? Sure! Will you be frustrated, confused or discouraged at times? Yup! But it beats settling for average, and it definitely beats being bored.

In this "American Crisis," let the politicians squabble and the economy meander. But as for you, set your own course and live a life based on the power of self-direction. I think you'll prefer the results.

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