I was reading a business article a couple of weeks ago, and I noticed the writer using the phrase, “being comfortable in your own skin.”
I wondered why such a widely-read business author would use such a trite and overused metaphor.
Made popular years ago, the expression encouraged an attitude of acceptance, promoting a guiltless surrender to flaws and imperfections in physical appearance.
Over time, the axiom evolved into a popular way of defining a state of personal authenticity — creating a sense of flow in our lives, of doing things in a way that made the most sense, even when our choices departed from the traditional.
After a little research, I learned the phrase is on the verge of making a comeback.
Perhaps it’s time.
Seems like every ten years or so, the self-help industry checks the recycle bin for second-hand concepts that can be re-packaged into books and seminars for the next generation. So with the latest re-issue of “finding a personal comfort zone” pre-eminently upon us, I’d like to make a suggestion: Let’s include a context that goes far beyond the reluctant acceptance of situations and issues beyond our control.
Let’s make it about the celebration of choice.
Since I often share personal experiences with readers, I’d like to offer an example that is near and dear to my heart.
A few months ago, my husband and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary. But unlike the customary observance, we renewed our desire to continue our relationship for another year.
It’s something we’ve done since our first anniversary, nineteen years ago. And while it’s not the traditional box of candy and Hallmark card, it’s a commemoration of truth — of looking back on the years we’ve shared together and deciding the future is better with each other than without.
To me, it’s a nearly overwhelming concept — having that choice, even though I would never choose otherwise. It’s a part of commitment — maybe the most important part.
We are together because we want to be. And we make that choice every year.
Perhaps. But our example pales in comparison to the choices others have made, willingly and without hesitation.
An acquaintance of mine had a fairy tale start in life.
Born into a loving and financially-secure family, Mark followed the role models of his parents, attending the best schools, excelling at sports as well as scholastics.
After graduation, he moved up the corporate ladder and became a successful executive. At age thirty, he married Janice — the girl of his dreams. She was beautiful, intelligent, and supportive of his career. And as they stood before a packed church repeating their wedding vows, most couldn’t help but envy them.
The first two years were idyllic for the couple, and while there were adjustments — moving to a new state, making new friends, and coping with the demands of an upwardly-mobile corporate career path — they were, in the most real sense, truly happy.
It was on a quick trip to tour a property that had just come on the market — their potential dream home — that Janice suddenly felt dizzy. Although she told Mark she was fine, she fainted in the car on the way home. She dismissed it, passing it off as a benign symptom of fatigue, probably caused by a lack of sleep from a recent whirlwind trip to Barbados.
Two days later, while Janice was busy in the kitchen preparing a snack for a visiting neighbor, she fell to the floor, unconscious.
Mark stayed by her hospital bed for three days, hoping — praying — that Janice would open her eyes.
He knew the doctor’s prognosis wasn’t good.
Janice had suffered a stroke on the left side of her brain, potentially affecting her memory and the muscle control of the right side of her body.
Her recovery was long and arduous — and incomplete.
Even after several years of therapy, she remained confined to a wheelchair and experienced difficulty remembering her home address and phone number.
The misfortune brought a spontaneous outpouring of compassion from family and friends. It was a natural reaction to an unexpected tragedy.
But then something unusual happened.
After a year after the shock of the event had subsided and people came to accept Janice’s situation as an unfortunate happenstance of life, they directed their sympathy — and pity — toward Mark.
Some even saw him as the victim, denied his rightful destiny because of the “obligation” of being forced to care for his invalid wife.
I remember one of the comments as especially insensitive: “I hate to say it, but she’s an albatross around his neck, keeping him from realizing his true potential.”
Thankfully, Mark never heard it — at least not directly.
Mark had made changes in his priorities.
Instead of staying on the fast-track to a vice-presidency of a Fortune 500 company, he asked to be demoted to a less demanding staff position, which would have eliminated the need to travel.
The company fired him.
He could have felt sorry for himself, bemoaning his sudden reversal of fortune. After all, he had worked hard, sacrificing his personal interests to concentrate on career advancement and future financial success.
Instead, Mark found an online sales rep job, allowing him to work from home while he cared for Janice.
While others assumed his decision to change his priorities — and his life — to be a no-win obligation, Mark didn’t see it that way.
“I always had choices,” he said. “But leaving Janice in the hands of strangers was never one of them. I was familiar with corporate titles, and how the business world uses them to motivate, reward, and establish responsibility. It made me realize there were only a few titles that really mattered. So in my way of thinking, I simply added the title of caregiver to my previous status of soul mate.”
Mark’s courage in a seemingly impossible situation made me realize that many of the so-called obligations in our lives are simply the result of personal choice — whether we realize it or not.
Regardless of the situation or circumstances, no one else is going to live our lives for us, which places the responsibility of choosing honestly — and wisely — directly on us.
Turning obligations into choices — I think it’s what Mary Ann Evans, writing as George Eliot, was talking about when she said,
“The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.” — George Eliot
Jill Reid is a writer and founder of Pathway to Personal Growth, featuring articles on self-improvement, personal success strategies, and tips for living longer and stronger through positive lifestyle choices, and Kitchen Spirit, a health, food, and fitness website. Follow Jill on Medium, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.