I read somewhere recently that we define our lives – and ourselves – by what we are willing to sacrifice. It’s an interesting notion that I’ve been playing with as I go through my day, making decisions big and small. Often we think about our decisions and actions as being driven by our desires, what we want to have vs. what we are not willing to give up but there is an unmistakable link between the two that many of us fail to identify. Sometimes what is standing, steadfastly, in the way of us not being able to achieve those life goals that we set for ourselves, is what we are unwilling to sacrifice to get there.
Willing sacrifice, for instance, is the difference between the person with a 40 hour a week office job who wants to start their own business but is unwilling to make sacrifices in their way of life and financial security to do it, and the person who quits their job to make it happen and adjusts to suit. Yes, I know, life is never that black-and-white; there are bills to pay and children to care for but, at the same time, yes it IS just that simple. There are people out there who have done it, who are doing it, who are succeeding and failing and who, regardless, are living to tell the tale. Absent abdicating total responsibility for your obligations, most people are able to pick themselves up off the floor and continue on in life even after their biggest life gamble went to hell in a handbasket. And, for sure, the people who succeeded only did so because they were willing to take the risk that they might fail, to make the necessary sacrifices to give success a chance.
The point here is not that we are lacking courage if we are unwilling to make certain sacrifices in our life. No, this isn’t a judgment in either direction. It’s simply a recognition that we are not always at the mercy of our circumstances and that we have choices, not always palatable, not always sensible, but choices nevertheless. It’s been empowering for me to realize that because it means that I am able to understand and accept why certain things are not happening in my life right now.
As an example, I would love to have assignments that enabled me to travel to far-flung locations. As a passionate foreign traveler, the idea of being in strange lands, immersed in different cultures, hearing, seeing, and experiencing things that are so removed from my everyday experience at home, just sounds like a dream come true. Often I find myself frustrated that I don’t have that career, that life has not landed these opportunities in my lap. And yet, if I’m honest, I haven’t really done anything concrete to pursue that. At this point in my life, with a 6 year old daughter whose life I love to be a part of, I can’t imagine sacrificing my time with her to pursue this dream right now. Missing my morning ritual of going into her room and whispering “Good morning, beautiful!” to rouse her, is not something I am willing to give up, even if only for a week or two at a time, to make that dream happen.
It’s a subtle shift, I realize, this recognition, sometimes of only language and perspective. Once upon a time I might have said that I “couldn’t” take on a job with travel that leaves me gone for weeks at a time, that doing so would make me a bad or irresponsible mother. But now I realize that there are perfectly wonderful mothers who do just that, who accept this sacrifice to do the job they are deeply passionate about. In the process they demonstrate strong, independent values to their children, values that, in part, define who they are and what life lessons their children will take with them into their own adult lives.
I am just as defined by my unwillingness to make these sacrifices, as the person who is. (In return I’m sure there are plenty of sacrifices they are not willing to make that I think nothing of.)
Willingness to sacrifice is often at the bottom of many life decisions that we find ourselves struggling with. If we do this, then we can have that, but will lose something else. The key is in understanding just how important those things that we are holding onto are to us, and evaluating whether or not we could be willing to set them aside even for a while, in order to take a chance on something we may want more. When we look our life this way, many of our can’ts turn into won’ts. Won’t is a decision within our control. Can’t is a restraint.
I am wrestling with many decisions in my life right now that I am looking at through this lens of sacrifice. I won’t say that it is making my path forward any clearer in every case but it is helping me make better choices around how and when I move into action, recognizing that I have the power to choose what stays and what’s worth letting go.