You can set your life straight, but this means doing two painful things. You must be honest where you are and clearly define what you want. This is no easy task because we’re not objective about our strengths and weaknesses. One problem is we cast all that is ugly about us into the shadow. In which case, the pain of the present is coming to terms with the demons swept under the rug. Another problem is the regret we accumulate over time. Some of these regrets are natural. Others are the world cutting you a raw deal. Maybe you’re even taking too much responsibility for what isn’t in your hands. The pain here is the unnecessary guilt. Another angle is holding onto your personal failings too tightly. Especially in Western cultures, we are far too hard on ourselves. It’s bad enough life is a struggle. Do we have to be our worst and most unfair critic as well? Making matters worse, we process pain more profoundly than positive emotions at a ratio of 4 to 1. How we feel out real success isn’t even balanced.
Setting your sights on the future is no picnic either. Once you set a goal for yourself, a judge automatically appears. The deeper the value we raise up, the deeper the potential pain we establish if we fail to achieve it. Who loves taking tests? It is much easier to hide behind, “it depends” or to allow others to set the terms of life for you. While easier, you stop being the master of your own life. Mom always wanted a doctor.
In either the present or the future, the task of life is being able to embrace the paradox of our being. We are shockingly great and noble and equally dreadful and a danger to ourselves and others. Each of us has the potential to develop a deep and meaningful vision. Yet, that vision may be a tar pit we pour our hopes into.
However, there is one other thing every branch of clinical psychology has taught us. Willingly and courageously facing this paradox is a powerful way forward. By being fully in tune with reality – every part of it – we stop being at odds with it. Reality becomes an ally that helps us transform into something greater and beautiful: compassionately fair.