This I Believe started out as a series of radio broadcasts in the 1950’s, hosted by Edward R. Murrow. The broadcasts were essays read by both famous and unknown individuals sharing the beliefs dearest and most essential to their lives. What started out as a radio program is now an organization. Several books have compiled essays that continue to be written and essays can be submitted online for possible publication. This past year, This I Believe, a collection of essays including some of the original broadcasts as well as modern essayists, was selected as the book for Shepherd University’s One Community, One Book (Common Reading) program. As I read the moving stories, I started thinking about my own This I Believe essay. Sharing an essay about the philosophies closest to my heart seems appropriate that for the 100th post on The Ripple Effect 2009, a blog I started to share meaningful stories of parenting and personal growth. Thanks to my loyal readers who have hung in through my first 100 posts and to the new readers who are sharing in the conversations and helping the momentum grow!
When I was in graduate school, pursuing a degree in Psychological Services at the University of Pennsylvania, I had the fortune of having an excellent professor, Professor John Fantuzzo, for a course on Psychological Interventions. The most powerful lesson I have received in all of my education, I learned through writing an essay Professor Fantuzzo had assigned us on the topic of choice.
I did not fully heed my intellectual understanding of choice on the day I wrote my essay; though I had philosophically planted the seed to nourish at a later date. What I wrote for that assignment changed me, over time. The years between high school and my thirties were challenging ones for me, filled with continued financial struggles, grief from multiple personal losses, and disillusionment with many of the beliefs I had held during my childhood. After achieving excellence in my academic pursuits, I held a series of demanding and ill-fitting positions that tested my emotional and physical boundaries and left me distanced from myself. While I did learn a great deal about myself through the experiences life was presenting, I was at points suffering from depression, borderline anorexic, and coping with the onset of two chronic health issues.
I knew something had to change, but despite two degrees in Psychology, I did not know where to start. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make a change and that I would not be able to create the life I wanted. I felt myself wavering between a sense of powerlessness and a flickering of hope and faith that I could move out of this dim emotional place. I started anyway. I found a position in a university department working with wonderful people. We moved to a community that suited us. My husband also made some career changes that set us on the path of forward momentum in our lives. I fed myself. I found some balance between work and life. Good things began to happen for us: my husband found a good job, we got pregnant and had our little girl, V, and I started writing again.
The essence of what I wrote in my essay before I lived it was this: in every situation, we have the power of choice. In every situation, we have the power of choice. We may not like the situations we find ourselves in within life. We may not have control over the aspects of a situation that we wish to control. We may have limited or constrained options, but we always have a choice. Even the smallest choice can be powerful. We can defy suffering with a smile. We can pull ourselves out of grief by reaching for another or focusing on someone whose need is greater than our own. We can breathe through pain. We can wait, enduring, until life changes, because everything changes. We can fight. We can forgive. We can love. We can choose a different path.
I still stumble on my own path and I know I have challenges and more losses to face in my future. I hope I can summon the courage to keep taking responsibility for my choices during difficult moments of my life. I still wrestle with feeling a lack of power to make positive changes in my life. During these moments, what allows me to maintain or regain forward momentum is a cognitive shift; enduring belief in the power of choice. Change is not always a fast process; but it starts with the choices we make. This, I believe.