Do Our Choices Determine Who We Are

in Cultivating Clarity
Jazz Trio


They say that you know a person by what they do. And yet I wonder: is this simply an opinion that has become widely accepted to be true?

The logic behind this statement is that our actions speak louder than our words; essentially, a good person does ‘good’ things and bad person does ‘bad’ things. However, this raises the whole argument around whether we human beings are good or bad or both or neither.

And to be honest, this argument could go on forever, like a dog endlessly chasing after it’s tail.

So why am I even bringing this debate up today?

It’s because, lately, I’ve been pondering what it means to live life by design. Can our lives be intentionally crafted like a startup company that grows from just an idea to becoming a multi-million dollar brand? Can we craft our lives like an architects detailed blueprint, that, when masterfully followed, creates a space that is functional, beautiful and sustainable?

To some degree, this may be true.

And yet, I would also contend that our lives are like a dance; or maybe like a jazz trio, or even like a hockey game. Perhaps this sounds a little odd, but let me explain.

A person may have trained for countless years to be a dancer, but who knows how their partner on any given night might change the way they move, the way they feel, the way they interpret the music.

A masterful jazz trio consists of three musicians, who, above all things, are committed to listening to each other. Why? So that they can go to musical places that they have never traveled to before. Therefore each time they play, it becomes a unique and rich experience for them and their audience.

And hockey, like the arts, is a 60 minute game of improvisation; every play is created in real time. No one knows for certain what the end result of the game will be, let alone the result of one shift to the next.

If life is simply a blueprint we create and then follow to the very detail, this would leave little room for listening, improvisation, wonder, questioning, and the freedom to travel the road less taken. The blueprint model alone creates a very rigid way of living life.

“So why am I even grappling with all of this?” you might again be asking.

Well, because I think we all work through this concept of what it means to live life by design, or by default, or some strange combination of both. Maybe we don’t always put words to it, but we wonder; we question; we struggle.

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to catch all the breaks? Or why that one couple seems to have such a great marriage while yours feels lukewarm at best? Have you ever questioned if God really exists, and, if so, why the world is so screwed up? Have you every wondered why some people land great jobs, or create amazing companies, and others live pay cheque to pay cheque hoping they can pay this month’s rent?

Is the life we experience simply a grand total of all the choices we’ve made to this point? Do some people thrive because they set compelling goals for themselves and then followed them up with passion, determination and perseverance?

Is this the whole story, or is there more?

Wherever you find yourself today, maybe the point is to let go; to let go of all the preconceptions of what you thought your life was suppose to look and feel like. If you’re feeling stuck – trapped in a life cycle that you can’t get out of – perhaps the answer is to change your model of how things are suppose to be.

Maybe that sounds a little like giving up, but please hear what I’m saying. When our model of the world – our beliefs of how life is suppose to be – doesn’t align itself with the life we are experiencing, and, unconsciously we feel powerless to do anything about it, it is here in this space where despair, anxiety, and angst take root.

And when this happens, we begin to isolate ourselves from others; we become bitter and cynical and do all kinds of crazy things in order to transcend the nightmare that we feel trapped within.

So what should we do?

First of all: Embrace the principle that you’re okay.

Secondly: Know that you have all the resources you need today to live life well.

And third: Breathe. Simply be aware of your breath moving in and out of your body.

I wish I could provide you with a simple 5 step formula to follow that would make everything alright. I wish I could give you a few easy answers to explain all the pain and hardship that you may have experienced in your life. However, I would be doing you a great disservice if I even tried to go down that road.

Life is far too rich and complex for any simple formula to follow. And easy answers to life’s difficult questions are often cheap and shallow and lack empathy and wisdom.

The truth is, we may have constructed the greatest plans for..

  • our life
  • our career
  • our marriage
  • our family
  • our health

only to see them fall apart or move in a completely different direction.

If we believe that living life by design is solely a blueprint we create and follow, this can lead to feelings of despair and angst when the life we’re living is not the one we envisioned.

However, if life is more like a dance, if it’s like performing musicians and athletes, than perhaps life is not happening to us, but rather, with us and for us. As difficult as it may be to see in the moment, what if life continues to provide us with daily opportunities to grow, to evolve, to heal?

And if we have the courage to listen and join in the dance, we just might create something far more beautiful and functional and sustainable than what we originally intended.

Today’s Unitas Project:

  • I want to leave you with a piece from one of my favorite signer/songwriters, Bruce Cockborn. At your leisure, feel free to read through the lyrics from his song, Southland of the Heart:

When the wild-eyed dogs of day to day
Come snapping at your heels
And there’s so much coming at you
That you don’t know how to feel
When they’ve taken all your money
And then come back for your clothes
When your hands are full of thorns
But you can’t quit groping for the rose

In the southland of the heart

Where night blooms perfume the breeze
Lie down
Take your rest with me

When thoughts you’ve tried to leave behind
Keep sniping from the dark
When the fire burns inside you but
You jump from every spark
When your heart’s beset by memories
You wish you’d never made
When the sun comes up an enemy

And nothing gives you shade

In the southland of the heart
Where the saints go lazily
Lie down
Take your rest with me

When the preacher lays his insight down
And claims to lead the blind
When those you trust just get you hooked
And trifle with your mind
When the nightmare’s creeping closer
And your wheels are in the mud
When everything’s ambiguous
Except the taste of blood

In the southland of the heart

There’s no question of degree
Lie down
Take your rest with me

In the southland of the heart
Everyone was always free
Lie down

Take your rest with me

  • As you read through these lyrics, what do you notice is different now?

Until next time…
Be You. Be Unitas.



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