By Joeel A. Rivera, M.Ed.
Everything in life comes down to our belief systems: how we view things, how we perceive them and then what meaning we give to them.
For example, working with couples, I had a young lady who was telling me she felt that her husband did not love her. In turn, he argued that he would go above and beyond to show her love. He said he would tell her he loved her and show her affection. No matter what he did, it was never good enough, and she was constantly picking a fight, for no reason. I probed further and asked her how she knew that he did not truly love her. She said it was because during a fight he would just sit there and talk to her calmly. He never got emotional, raised his voice or reacted to her emotions. She felt that if he truly loved her he would be emotionally involved—emotionally reactive—because he’d care so much about her that he wouldn’t be able to control himself. Obviously, in her upbringing she developed a belief system that love meant caring so much you lacked emotional control. For her, in order to know she was loved she had to have conflict—and her partner had to engage in an emotional battle with her. Her belief system was very different from what he experienced growing up. He believed that love meant expressions of love and contribution, as well as respect and emotional control during conflict.
Our belief systems determine our relationships, as well as our income, health, careers, and every other aspect of our lives.
Let me ask you a question: if you were born without legs and arms, do you think that you would be wealthier, happier, have better relationships and have more freedom than you do now? Would you be able to follow your dreams? Or, do you think you would be limited? Worse off? Most people, if they answered honestly, would say that if they had those perceived limitations they would not expect life to be as good as it is now—let alone imagine life could be even better. However, this is a great example of the power of perception and meaning. Nick Vujicic was born without legs and arms, and was told that he would not be able to live a normal life. But, Nick does many things that we would consider normal, such as swimming, fishing, having a family and enjoying the simple pleasures in life. But he also does the extraordinary: Nick is a recognized author and internationally renowned motivational speaker who travels the world. (To learn more about Nick’s story, look him up on YouTube.com. I recommend the video “Are You Going to Finish Strong.”)
The difference between Nick and other people is that he chose a different perspective about his reality. He did not allow others to write his story and determine the life he would lead. He decided he was going to write his own story, on his own terms. He saw what many believed was a limitation as an opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives, through his example of living a life that was worth living, despite overwhelming obstacles. Through following his greater purpose, he has touched the lives of millions, while living an amazing life. He is currently married, with a child, and has a net worth somewhere between one-half and $1 million—not bad for someone who many had perceive would be fully dependent and have no ability to contribute to society. When we see something as a limitation, it becomes a limitation. But, our greatest perceived weakness can be our greatest strength.
The only thing we have to change about a perceived limitation to turn it into a blessing is the meaning we give to it.
Let me ask you another question: what if you where twenty five years old and your doctor informed you that you had stage III cancer, that it would most likely be fatal, and that the thing that you did for a living—your greatest passion and purpose in life since the age of 16 years old—you could no longer do. Would you give up and take it as a death sentence? Most people would be consumed with fear and may decide to focus on dying of instead living. However, Lance Armstrong decided that he was going to continue to do what he loved—cycling—even though he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. Just two years after he was diagnosed, he went back to professional cycling and he ended up winning the Tour de France seven years in a row. Not bad for someone that was told that if he lived at all he would have to find a different way of living. In some way, I guess they were absolutely right—he sure did find a different way of living, he found a way to take that obstacle and created an even better life. He told himself,
“If I can beat cancer, there’s no way that someone can be more determined to win than me.”
What made him different was what he focused his mind on—the perspective he took. He did not see his cancer diagnosis as a death sentence; he saw it as an opportunity to test his human spirit, to take on a new challenge. Even if it did not work out in the end, he was willing to die trying. He figured, we are all going to die someday, so why not choose to live today focused on the life we want, rather than what we don’t want. And, so he became obsessed with focusing on becoming stronger, taking one step at a time and seeing himself as the best cyclist ever. He took his message even further and founded the LiveStrong Foundation (www.livestrong.org).
If you think something is impossible, it will be. But, if you can change the word impossible into “I’M-possible” you begin to realize that anything you want is possible, you only have to be willing to take that first step.
Sometimes your dreams may not seem realistic, but where would this world be if people like Lance Armstrong or Nick Vujicic—or all of history’s great role models, inventors and revolutionaries—had chosen only to go after what was realistic? Would we have electricity, cell phones, human right and all the blessings we often take for granted? No. If you take the next step with faith, you will quickly realize that momentum will build as you leave behind the belief system that held you back—that saw challenges as curses—and embrace your new perspective that meaning exists wherever you choose to find it and that within each challenge lies the seed of a blessing waiting to be found.
Never forget that what you take for granted, someone else is praying for.
Every day chose to be grateful for what you have, and then use that as the foundation on which to build your dreams.
Joeel A Rivera, M.Ed., is a visionary, entrepreneur, and motivational speaker. From an early age, Joeel faced adversity, including immigrating to the United States, failing his freshman year of college, losing his brother, and being in a nearly fatal car accident. These experiences inspired him to return to college, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Education and is currently completing his dissertation for his Ph.D. in Psychology, with an emphasis on happiness. Joeel opened a non-profit teen center in honor of his brother and developed curriculums for the Juvenile Justice System. In almost a decade, Joeel has reached over ten thousand people as an educator, entrepreneur, speaker, and consultant. Visit www.joeelandnatalie.com.