“You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself…the height of a man’s success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment. …And this law is the expression of eternal justice. He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others.” ― Leonardo da Vinci
One inescapable characteristic about this little voyage we call life is that each and every one of us arrives at the life we chose to live. More directly, we get the life we ultimately opt to live. Any fabricated reality beyond this is chock-full of excuses and meaningless justification. Undeniably, there are obstacles to be overcome, trials to surmount, being dealt a lousy hand, but irrespective of where your history originated, it does not disqualify you from any future or desired outcome of your electing.
Sound overly naïve or parochial? Study history. Explore the childhood of some of your most admired people. Explore the struggles masters like Oprah Winfrey, Abraham Lincoln, Jeff Bezos, or Richard Branson had to overcome. (I challenge you to study many of these “world changers” – I suspect you will soon conclude, hardship and trials actually makes the master).
In a fascinating 2016 European Journal of Developmental Psychology article, Dr. Ann Masten defines this ability “to thrive despite” as resilience. Dr. Masten defines it as the ability to thrive regardless of circumstances as, “doing well in, despite or risk or adversity.” Let’s pile on! In another interesting 2017 academic journal out of Germany, researchers, Beutel, Tibubos, Klein, Schmutzer, Reiner, and Kocalevent provide evidence that not everyone who endures stressful or painful trials early in life are necessarily predetermined to be held back as a result. In their article, Childhood Adversities and Distress – The Role of Resilience in a Representative Sample, they cite a 1996 study conducted in Hawaii with 700 subjects participating, a third who had grown up under less than ideal conditions (e.g., poverty, divorce, mental problems) and remained resilient and in fact, flourished despite it. If the advice your grandparents provided didn’t quite sink in, social science has made a pretty compelling case that history is no better an excuse than laziness or apathy.
Despite your rough or smooth launch, you will inevitably discover that you may have to work harder than others, study harder, practice more, or deal with rejection more often, but it is you who will ultimately determine the content and eventual outcomes of your life. While this may seem like an oversimplification of life’s twists and turns, it just is not. It is that rudimentary. Your outcomes are rooted in a simple formula of action, reaction. Your excuses and justifications are what make it extraordinarily complex, not the basic law of inputs and outputs. Until we completely understand and appreciate this fact, we will have completely missed the fundamental calculus of living and flourishing.
APPLICATION: You, me, all of us, will “be made” by the temporary and permanent decisions we make along our individual and collective journeys. These decisions will shape what owns us. Ironically, whether intentioned or unintentional, we will all make a choice that constitutes a decision around mastery. The difference between you and everyone else will exist in in the outcome. People that choose not to master some domain in their lives, will assuredly find themselves subservient to those who do.