Two stories demonstrate how the choice is in our hands as to whether our circumstances will define our reality or whether we will define our circumstances. It’s the difference between enslavement and freedom.
Today I want to share two stories with you, both of which bring out a very similar point. One is a famous marketing story about two salesmen who are sent by their company who sells shoes to go to Africa and sell their product in Africa. And they come to Africa and in some area in Africa where they discover, low and behold, that no one actually wears shoes in this region in Africa. One salesman comes flying right back home to the company and tells the company, You sent me to a terrible place because no one wheres shoes there, there’s no one to sell shoes to. The other one doesn’t come back for many months and when he comes back he comes back without any shoes and he says, You sent me to the best place in the world. No one had shoes, I was able to sell shoes to everyone.
Here is a second story which is somewhat similar and it’s the story of two brothers. One brother was living a dysfunctional life, didn’t have any family, was unsuccessful in business or making any money, was down and out and was dependent on all different types of substances. And if you asked him why his life looked so dismal, he would say, It’s because of my father. I had a father who was abusive, I had a father who was an alcoholic, and I had a father who was a terrible role model, he never held down a job and this is the reason I am the way I am. And this young man had a brother, who was highly functional, who had a beautiful family, who held down a job and was making a good living, who was a person who had very good relationships and friendships and was a great benefit to his community. And when he was asked why he’s leading such a functional life, what led him to such a place, you know what he said? My father. I had a father who was dysfunctional, I had a father who was an alcoholic, I had a father who was abusive, he was every single example of what I shouldn’t be and that’s how I got to where I am.
And both of these stories demonstrate a very powerful message, and that is that when we come to a place in Africa where no one is wearing shoes, we can look at the circumstances and have the circumstances define the way we are going to think. Oh, no one wears shoes, there’s no one to sell shoes to. Or, we can choose to define the environment and the circumstances by saying no one wears shoes, great, I’m going to teach everyone here about shoes.
Where one brother can say that this is the father I had so, therefore, it defines who I’m going to be, which is like my father, I just roll with what I saw, or the other brother who says, these are my circumstances, this is what I see, I am going to choose to let this be an example of what I shouldn’t be.
And that is a choice that every single one of us always gets to make in every situation. When someone says something to us, we can let what they say define us or we can choose to define ourselves or let that statement actually define them.
Did you ever notice that? Someone says something nasty, I can either let that nasty thing they say about me define me or I can do the more accurate thing and let that nasty comment define them, which is what it definitely does, define them. This is a choice we make, this is a deeper version of what liberation and freedom are, when we choose to stand up and step into the role that we are supposed to be leading in this world.
Now, it’s true that some people are given the more optimistic disposition by nature. Some people are born with a less optimistic disposition. For some people, it’s easier by nature. They don’t even need to be trained, they will immediately say, oh, this is a great market for shoes. And another person by nature will, their initial response will be, oh, my goodness, we can’t sell any shoes here. That may be true because we all have strengths and weaknesses. But what is also true is that we all have the power to choose whether we are going to learn to see things differently than our natural disposition. This is liberation. This is freeing ourselves.
And we can take this even further. Because there is an inherent limit in every human being. The mere fact that we are human gives us limitation and definition. And when we remind ourselves that we are given the gift of having the opportunity to connect to a higher source, to an infinite being, that can give us the ability to do things which are beyond our ability, beyond our limitation. We can actually step out of an even greater limitation and free ourselves by opening ourselves to an expanse, which is infinite. And that’s by connecting ourselves with an infinite being. And this is the beauty of someone who develops a relationship with God.
How does someone do this? We do this when we give over our trust to God. God says, Do this thing. And we take that one thing, maybe not everything, but we take that one thing and we say, God, I’m going to trust you on this one, I’m going to ride on your shoulders for this, I’m going to trust you. And we trust God. That is when people discover an infinite presence in their life.
You see, here is ultimately the biggest difference between people who liberate themselves from a confined and limiting space of no one to sell shoes to, the simple difference is when someone stands up and just does it. When someone stands up and says, I am going to do what everyone else says you can’t do. That’s the person who discovers something that no one else discovered. You know why? Because they simply got up and said, I will do it. They didn’t know how they were going to do it, they know no one else before them ever did it, but they said, I am going to do it. I’m not going to stay in the limited box of I cannot.
We all know the classic example of this is the four‑minute mile. Everyone knew you cannot run a mile in less than four minutes, everyone knew that until one runner said, I am going to break this myth and he ran the mile in three minutes and 59 seconds. And suddenly, fascinatingly, runner after runner started beating the 4‑minute mile. Because they didn’t have to do that courageous thing anymore, they didn’t need to be the one to say, I can.
That is true liberation when we do not let the circumstances define us and tell us we can’t but we say we can, especially when we know that there’s a higher power telling us that we should and this is what is expected of us.
And so here is a simple exercise we can do to bring more liberation and freedom into our life, and that is to begin adding one word into a question that we often ask ourselves. The question we often ask ourselves is, can I do this? And when we add one word, that entire question changes. Stop asking yourself can I do this, and start asking how can I do this. Very different question. No longer are you questioning the possibility of being able to do it, now you’re questioning how you’re going to go about doing what you have already decided to do. Don’t ask can I do this, ask how can I do this? Make believe you are that person who can do it, even though you may have no idea how you’re going to. But just make believe and act as if you can do it and ask yourself only how can I do it and you will suddenly see that you can do things that very few and possibly no other people around you are doing.