Updated: Jul 21, 2019
It's not necessary to read the first Advice You Didn't Know You Needed to Hear post before reading this one, but here it is if you would like to read it.
No one else can make you do anything. You are in control of your life. If you want to make a change, you have to be the one to make it happen.
This is a crucial part of living the life you want: realizing that you have to be the one to make it happen.
Throughout our childhoods, most of us had someone telling us what to do the vast majority of the time. We had teachers telling us what our homework was and when it was due. They’d break our assignments down, saying the rough draft is due two weeks before the final copy so that you couldn’t push them both until the last day.
Parents carted us around to lessons and practices and activities. Maybe we had some say in what we participated in, maybe not. But typically, once you were signed up, there was no question about whether or not you were going to your violin lesson. You were going because your parents put you in the car and took you there.
Then we hit our teenage years. We get more freedom and responsibility, but for most of us, that freedom is still more limited than we realize. We still have to go to school. It’s legally required. Someone else is making us do it. Many of us felt that we had to go to college, get a certain degree, or take a certain path after graduation.
Though our reigns were loosening, we still were generally told what we had to do, and what kinds of things we should be working toward in life. We had coaches, teachers, professors, mentors, parents, older siblings, bosses, and plenty of other adults dictating the shape that our lives were to take.
Yes, you had some input, and some of us were more independent than others, but there were plenty of people who could make you do things. Our control over our lives was still somewhat limited.
Then, suddenly, we’re out in the “real world.” Or maybe you’re still in school—the "real world" is coming and this advice is still valuable to you. One day, you’ve moved out of your parents’ house, you’ve graduated with whatever degree you ended up choosing, you’ve landed yourself a job, and you’re on your own.
At this point, you are in control of your life.
Sure, you’ve got a boss to answer to, and I’m sure that the IRS will be pretty peeved if you didn’t file your taxes, but aside from that, your actions are your own.
You choose how you spend your time. You choose what goals you’re going to work toward. There’s no one to cart you off to the gym when it’s time to exercise. There’s no one to tell you that you can’t leave the table until you eat your vegetables. There’s no one coming to check that you’ve gone to bed at a reasonable hour.
If you want to make a change—if you don’t like whatever actions you currently take on a day-to-day basis—no one can change that but you.
No one is going to show up at your doorstep on Monday evening and say, “alright, you need to go to therapy. Get in the car; we’re going.” (Unless you have the world’s most amazing friends. Hang on to them.)
If you feel therapy would benefit you (and it probably would; pretty much everyone would benefit from going to therapy) you have to be the one to make the appointment. If you keep sitting around and doing nothing, it’s never going to happen.
That’s it. Those are the facts.
You are the only person who can make your life go in the direction that you want it to go. The only person.
You are in control of your actions. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, you are.
Did reading that just make you feel really uncomfortable?
That’s normal. It’ll be okay.
The great thing about being in control of your actions is that you don’t have to ask anyone else for permission to change them. That power is also all yours. You are in a position of power. Embrace it.
Right this moment, you have all of the power that you need to start changing your life. Yes, it will take time. It will take effort. It won’t happen overnight. But it will be worth it.
I can hear you making excuses. “But I don’t have enough money,” “I don’t have the time,” “I don’t know what to do,” “It will be hard,” “It will take too long.” Those are all excuses. They may be true—this will be hard—but there is always something that you can do to start creating change.
This marks the end of your excuses. This marks the end of waiting for a change that clearly isn’t happening until you make it happen. This marks the moment where you cut the crap and accept that if you’re going to live the life that you want, you have to be the one to make that happen.
You are in control. No one else. Stop deferring responsibility to someone that doesn’t exist. Your parents aren’t going to make you go to the gym. They aren’t going to tell you to put down the bag of chips. You no longer have teachers that you have to give your completed assignments to. If you don’t step up and set your own goals, then nothing is going to change.
Here’s the good news:
Life improves dramatically when you start taking responsibility for your actions. You can’t control everything, but chances are, there are plenty of aspects of your life that you can change that you just haven’t. Now that you’ve accepted that you are in control of your life, you get to change those things.
Step up. No one else can change your actions. If you want change, you have to change. You have to first decide to change your actions, and then you have to do it. Stop waiting for things that you already know aren’t going to happen without you making them happen.
Unfortunately, there’s no secret. Nothing is going to make this easy. There’s a reason so few people have taken responsibility for the path of their life: it’s hard. If there were a secret, I’d be selling it for millions of dollars. But there isn’t. You’ve just got do it.
(I’m fully aware that “just do it” is pretty useless advice, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Most of the time, your best bet is to just suck it up and make it happen. Learning how to do that is another story.)
First, I can tell you that there is no perfect time. Stop waiting for it.
Next, finding your Why can make this easier. Once you know where you want to go, solidify the reasons why you want to go there. Why do you want to quit your job? Why do you want to start your own business? Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to start eating a cleaner diet?
When you know why you’re working toward the things you’re working toward, it will be much easier to push through the difficult moments. And there definitely will be difficult moments.
Aside from that, your best bet is to break it down and focus only on taking the very next step. When you look at the whole thing at once, it’s overwhelming. The prospect of changing your life is daunting, which is what holds so many people back from ever making it happen. The smaller you can make each step, the easier they’ll be.
Even if you don’t know where you’re ultimately headed, you can still take that first step because that first step takes you away from here. If you aren’t where you want to be, pick a new direction.
If you figure out three months from now that this isn’t the right direction either, that’s okay. You now know two places that don’t work for you, and you’ll have a better idea of where to go next. That bit of knowledge that you gained is much better than sitting in the wrong place just because you don’t know where to go next.
Pick a direction, and take the first step. Don’t worry about the rest of the journey. Sometimes it will be difficult. Sometimes it’ll be amazing. It will certainly be worth it, and you have all the power that you need to embark on that journey because you are in control of your actions.
No matter how much you want me to be wrong about this, I’m not (barring a discussion about free will, but this isn’t the time or place for that). You are responsible for your actions. You are in control of how you spend your time. Every single day, you either choose to go to the gym, or you choose not to. You choose to eat healthily, or you choose to eat crap. You choose to keep living the life that you’re living now, or you choose to change.