You may recall that in a previous article*, someone prompted me to step back and examine my own pattern of behavior. Well, this time I managed to figure out something all by myself. I had been hemming and hawing about what to do about a particular situation. Last night, I woke up from a sound sleep. I sat up in bed and said to myself, “What exactly are you waiting for?”
Have you ever asked yourself the same question? Has there been something in your own life that you have repeatedly postponed. It seems to me that everyone has something they want to do in life, but it just never seems to be the “right time” to do it. It may be changing jobs, getting married, going back to school, having a baby, buying a house, or one of a million different decisions. There always seems to be a good reason to put if off. “I’ll just wait until after the holidays.” “I’ll start just as soon as I finish that big project at work.” “When I’ve saved a bit more money, I’ll be ready to jump right in.” “I’ll do it when I have more time.” Do you hear the open-ended nature of these responses? There is no deadline. In each of these cases, taking action may be postponed indefinitely. Actually, let’s call those statements what they really are: excuses. Each of these statements emanates from reasoning that is passive. The speaker is waiting for something else to happen. Action is required only after that something else has occurred.
The problem with living your life in a passive stance is that the world around you is not going to wait for your “right time.” Time does not stand still and neither does your life. A passive stance in an active world only results in someone or something else dictating the course of your life.
The notion that life should be lived passively is something that we learn as children. Anyone who has children, or works with them, will tell you that children are naturally egocentric. When a baby is born, all of his** needs seem immediate. If you do not change his diaper immediately, feed him when he is hungry, or dress him suitably for the weather, he begins to cry. He will not stop crying until his need is met. As he gets older, “no” may become his favorite word. Some might say this is simply a continuation of an infant’s egocentrism. I would venture to add that “No” may also be a learned response. Why? Because that child might often be told “No” regardless of whether he is voicing a need, desire, or want. “No, you can’t have that.” “No, we can’t do that right now” “No, we’ll do it later.” What message is being sent to the child? “Your need will be postponed because it is less important than mine.” I have come across many parents who seemed to use “no” as a default response rather than out of necessity. Although the child in my example will benefit from understanding the importance of being patient and following rules, he also may learn the unintended lessons that authority figures make decisions haphazardly and someone else is in charge of determining when his need will be met.
When the child enters elementary school, he receives further training. His teacher tells him to follow the rules, to speak only when it is his turn, and his individual needs are less important than the need for group order. Again, these premises are good and necessary for conducting oneself in an orderly society. Yet, they are often taught with such fervor at home and at school that the child begins to wait for a signal from an authority figure that it is time for him to take action so that he can meet his own need. Consequently, a child who is a natural leader may learn to take charge of a situation only when approval is granted by an authority figure. It may take years for this child, who may potentially be a fantastic entrepreneur or dynamic corporate executive, to unlearn these lessons of postponement and conformity.
The damage done by internalization of the principles of conformity and postponement is compounded by another principle that is often taught by parents: “be safe and don’t fail.” Parents want their children to be happy, healthy, and safe. Additionally, children today are subjected to more pressure to succeed and excel than at any other point in history. Consequently, parents tend to teach their children to play it safe, take fewer risks, and not make mistakes. The internalization of this principle together with those of postponement and conformity may produce a child who learns to live in fear. That child also learns it is safer to allow someone else to make decisions because he cannot be held accountable for any failure that occurs as a result of the decision..
I like to the term this behavior as “passive decision making.” You make passive decisions by your own inactivity, passivity, and ambivalence in a particular situation. Passive decisions are often caused by the actions of others. They result from your decision to allow life to happen to you. Do you have a history of passive decision making? Do you wait for an authority figure to tell you when it is time to take action. Unfortunately, those who taught you in your youth have all retired. Your parents have lived their lives and cannot make life-changing decisions for you. Also, they have not changed their desire for you to avoid failure. Your friends are comfortable with the predictability of your actions (or inaction). Passive decision-making is especially problematic if you are a corporate executive, small business owner, or entrepreneur. Other people, and your livelihood, depend upon your ability to make decisions. Those around you may see you as a strong person with great creativity. Yet, you may feel weak and look for a signal from someone else as to when it is time for you to step-up and take action.
It is up to you to decide to abandon the principles of passivity, conformity, and living life without risks that you internalized as a child. You are the only one who will live your life and you are completely responsible for your own actions or inaction. No one else will be sorry that you did not act decisively at any particular time. You are the only one who can take charge and live the life you desire. It is up to you to make the most of the opportunities that are presented to you each day.
My friend, today is the day to ask yourself: “What am I waiting for?” Decide that you will no longer be satisfied if life happens to you because of your passive decisions. Refuse to allow mundane tasks and your own inaction to dictate the course of your life. Set goals that will maximize your personal satisfaction and reach the new levels of success that you set in each of the five key areas of your life.*** Choose to be the captain of your own ship rather than allowing fate to seize the rudder from you and direct the course of your life!
* please refer to Prioritizing Your Life is a Continual Process
** I am using the male pronoun for the sake of simplicity.
*** For more information about the five key areas of your life, please read The Personal Pinnacle Of Success: Defining Success and Climbing the Mountain on Your Own Terms
Copyright © 1998 – 2011 Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
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