Where You Should Be


It’s is a problematic word. It implies that the present could be different from what exists now.

It’s a sensible sentiment, the idea that things should’ve worked out differently, but here is the problem: Things didn’t work out differently. The present could be different only if we could change the past. But -to my knowledge- we can’t. Specific causes lead to specific effects even if we can’t measure or understand them. Every moment is perfectly aligned with the causes that created it.

The present moment can’t be different from what it is, and in the mind, fighting what is with illusions of what should be leads to confusion. The tension caused by this battle is like a trap that limits our possibilities. Yet we constantly should all over ourselves (and others).

  • The outcome should be different.
  • You should be different.
  • I should be someone else.
  • I should be a better, tougher, stronger version of me.
  • I should be with someone else.
  • I should be somewhere else.
  • I should be at a better place in life.

The desire to should on life is certainly understandable. When it seems like things aren’t going our way, we have a tendency to believe things should be different. It’s a protective mechanism. It helps saves our self-worth. It helps the world seem a little more controllable and fair.

I’d love to tell you there are guarantees in life. There aren’t any.

I’d love to tell you life is fair. It’s not.

I’d love to tell you you’re in control. You aren’t.

The fact is this: Life is not controllable, guaranteed, or fair. The illusion of control exists when you only account for forces you can observe with your limited awareness. The perception of control is like admiring the top level of a house of cards while completely ignoring the bases that support it. This limited admiration ignores the fragile, connected beauty of the entire structure. Every moment of our lives, forces out of our awareness and control influence what we are capable of thinking, feeling, and doing. Like a house of cards, a change in one aspect can influence a change in the entire structure.

The illusion of control is compelling. It seems to make sense. It’s also quite convenient at times. But the illusion creates problems. When we believe in the illusion of control we tend to throw shoulds at everything we see because we see causality in a very limited, constraining way. This has some consistent effects. When things appear to be going against us, the illusion of control leads to confusion, blame, frustration, and eventual despair. When things appear to be going our way, the illusion of control blocks us from the gratitude that naturally flows from understanding the beautiful and miraculous harmony of uncontrollable forces that have aligned to give us what we want.

We desire control because we imagine it helps us feel powerful. To relinquish control can seem scary and uncertain, but in truth, the illusion of control is limiting, confusing, and frustrating. When we reject this illusion to clearly see degrees of influence in the order of the universe, we gain clarity, freedom, and possibility.

  • We don’t get to change the past, but we can influence how we understand it. A change in perception of the past changes our experience of the present.
  • We don’t have control over other people and the situations of the world, yet when we understand we have creative influence over our own experiences, we gain incredible freedom. Mind over matter isn’t a power struggle. It’s the way we are built.
  • We don’t have control over our thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet we have influence over possibilities that far exceed anything we attempt to control within us. When we learn not to fight ourselves, composure, awe, gratitude, wonder, curiosity, joy, and love flow through us.
  • We don’t get to control other persons’ thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet our influence is far greater than any control we might attempt to impose upon them. Don’t sell short others’ ability to love, admire, and appreciate you and your deeds.
  • We will never truly understand the order that created the present moment or where the swirling forces are taking us from here, yet we can influence finding reason, meaning, purpose, and connection along whatever path we travel. When we learn to dance with the rhythms of life, we find the miraculous in the common.

Much of the order of the universe works outside our awareness and understanding, but our lack of awareness and understanding doesn’t mean things should be different from what they are. Things are as they should be. Every moment is perfectly aligned with the causes that created it. We may not understand or appreciate it. We need not like it. We may wish things were different and even have regrets. But ultimately, the order of the universe is a good thing because if there is solace in the order of the universe, it is this:

You are where you should be. Here and now is the only place you can be. It’s the only place you’ll ever be, and you are enough to be great where you stand.

Beyond Our Wildest Dreams

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

We often get mesmerized by the suggestion that we need a grand vision. That is why I always find it fascinating to hear that so many high achievers had no grand vision, or at least they did not have the grand vision of the particular success they achieved.

Tom Brady was the latest person I heard to suggest such a thing. In the pregame segment he taped with Terry Bradshaw, Brady told Bradshaw, “I never imagined myself in this situation,” meaning playing in his 7th Super Bowl with a chance to win 5.

We often hear that we need to imagine it before we achieve it, but in reality, being excellent always rests with doing one’s best in the present moment, after all, it’s the only moment we ever live in. Now, to be sure, some of that excellence in the present is direct toward planning, but it always strikes me unusual, and quite wonderful actually, when someone exclaims that their life exceeded their wildest dreams.

I am not suggesting that imagery, planning, and/or goal setting are bad. That’s not at all my point. Planning has a purpose, but even though planning is about the future, it’s an act that must be done – like all others – in the moment. Thus, even planning must be performed excellently in the moment.

If one is to do rather than just dream, the planning must turn to action, and when taking action, so much big excellence is in the tiny details. Sometimes the grandest way to imagine something is to see the ordinary with extraordinary detail, focus, and care. Grand visions without action never materialize, but actions without a grand vision can still build a masterpiece one little detail at a time.

I think this is why Brady was so composed when Super Bowl LI started so poorly for the Patriots. He realizes that his vision of what he wants need not prevent him from dealing effectively with what is. He understands that he has built a masterpiece one little detail at a time, so that is how he took to dismantling the large deficit. Like with his entire career, perhaps in focusing on the tiny details he could influence, he exceeded what he could have accomplished had he tried to take in the entire bigger picture.

There is nothing wrong with a grand vision, but there is also nothing wrong with a limited or seemingly small vision with extraordinary focus on the little things that make the big things possible. As Emerson wrote, “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” Sometimes this wisdom leads us to places beyond our wildest dreams.