In a world seemingly possessed to show us our differences, a few truths stand untouchable. To quote the once famous comedian Dane Cook; "We all laugh, we all cry, and sometimes we all take painful sh...s"
A comedic platitude for certain, but it does point out that there are more similarities between us than we'd like to give ourselves credit for. One of those commonalities is the fact that we all have options in life. Every single human on Earth is presented with options hundreds of times in a day, thousands of times in a week, and millions upon millions in a lifetime.
These options are as big as choosing your career, your partner in life, and how you'll present yourself in society. But they are also as small as eating what is better for your health, choosing to get out of bed and go to work, and even breathing itself.
Yes, it's hard to contemplate that breathing - the subconscious action that keeps us alive - could be an option, but it is. Not to be serious, dark or morbid; but every single day there are many people who choose to no longer continue breathing.
The option of LIVE or NOT LIVE is a choice.
And that choice is often predicated upon whether or not you see life as an opportunity or an obligation. (It is also reliant upon a sense of purpose, community, and the presence of love and empathy in your daily life).
Opportunity is such a positive word.
Opportunities can be exciting; open-ended stories with so many pages left to be written. They are scary propositions on one hand and whimsical journeys on the other. They could lead us to the gold at the end of the rainbow or overextend us into an unknown and unsettled world.
It's why we pick up our lives and move across the country for a job or a relationship in our twenties. It's why we say "I do" in front of our friends and family, and it's why we willingly submit ourselves to the banking system for thirty-years when our collective hearts find the four walls and the piece of land that our family could grow upon.
"Opportunities provide curiosity and the chance that we take big leaps forward."
Then there are obligations - a word with so much weight.
Obligations can be the unrelenting, unjust requirements of existence. They can feel like waking up before the sun and clocking in at the top of the shaft; with but a moment to see the rising sun before descending into the darkness to lose your health and earn a paycheck.
Obligations could be skipping the party because you've got to work late and missing out on great memories. They are taking the public transit because a car would break the budget.
Obligations aren't always so severe though - it's also getting your teeth cleaned yearly, showing up early for your child's carpool line to avoid the long, winding chain of cars there, and it's going to the gym because you should really lose some weight.
"Obligations are the breathes we take to stay alive and the water we drink to stay hydrated. They provide stability and the constant drive that comes from step-by-step forward momentum."
Our happiness, though, might just derive from seeing more of our life's options as OPPORTUNITIES and less of them like OBLIGATIONS.
Getting out of bed on a dark, cold and rainy Monday to trudge through the streets of Manhattan, dodging raindrops and aggressive drivers with each block, just to end up at a desk for eight hours sounds EXACTLY like an obligation.
But it sure as hell sounds like an opportunity when you think about your life compared to the small-town kid in rural West Virginia who had to follow his father's footsteps into the mines before he could finish high school. Each and every day he swipes his card and absorbs the very same toxic air that poisoned his old man and caused him to slow down to the point he almost lost his job last June.
Sitting in traffic at your daughter's elementary school listening to podcasts and the local radio while you wish the Suburban in front of you would move up six feet to help you get your ass end out of the street sounds a lot like an obligation.
However, when you realize that skipping the urge to put her on the bus to save yourself time and make a few extra bucks working provides you the opportunity to be the first face she sees when she gets out of school. It provides her an opportunity to spill all of her "mommy and daddy, look" stories into your ears faster than she could spill those snacks into her lap if she doesn't pay attention.
It provides you a short window to build core memories, together, before time does what it will always do; bring joyful moments to a close faster than you could truly capture their magic.
The dentist office always sucks - but keeping your teeth clean is a predictor of longevity and health. What an amazing OPPORTUNITY to take care of yourself in about an hour.
The gym can be tiring, and hurt, and remind you of your inadequacies. But, as Louie Simmons said, "weak things break" and you can't let that be you. What an amazing OPPORTUNITY to explore your body and become strong in about an hour.
Calling and visiting your parents as you get older and busier can feel like a chore, but how amazing is it when your parents become your friends? What amazing OPPORTUNITIES.
Now, that's not to say that all opportunities go well. In fact, some failed opportunities will hurt worse than the weight of most obligations.
That opportunity to marry "that someone" has a chance of ending in a bitter and painful divorce that leaves one of you broken for years...
That house you bought was beautiful and perfect until the market crashed, you got laid off and the bank foreclosed you...
You might get hurt lifting weights.
You might get lost when you travel.
You might hate the new city you've moved to
The job you thought was your dream might be your worst nightmare.
That breathe you are about to take might just be your last.
But you never really know, until you do...
So until then, it's better to challenge yourself to see your opportunities as blessings (or gifts if you are the less religious type) and your obligations as opportunities (and as such also a blessing or gift).
In that way you are always choosing the optimistic side of the option. You are always charging forward with an open heart, an available mind, and wide eyes.
Time will give you the experience to refine your focus. Pain will harden the parts of you that shouldn't given away for free. And absence will provide the regret and yearning to remind you that life is full of millions of options.
Sure, you might be that overly optimistic person that drives those around you who chose to see life through lens of obligations just a little bit crazy. Heck, you might even annoy a few who love to quote Buddha, "life is suffering", to justify their moods.
But wow, what an opportunity to spread positivity.
It's just another option, isn't it?