Saturday, 17 January 2015

Whilst scrolling through the delight that is Kate's website recently, I came across this post about a famous commencement speech given in 2005 by novelist and English professor, David Foster Wallace. After reading what Kate had to say about the speech, I decided to have a listen for myself.

The central message of Wallace's speech is that we have a choice in how we see the world around us; whether we see it as good or bad, exciting or mundane, and whether we see the little agitations and setbacks in our lives as the universe deliberately trying to get in our way, or whether we consider that there may be bigger reasons for those things, reasons unbeknownst to us, and that we are not the only ones feeling that way.

Wallace's words stuck with me for some time after I listened to his speech, and that evening one  short, simple, but very powerful message kept circulating my head; we have a choice. It's very easy to feel like you're stuck in a certain way of thinking or behaving, or that your path is already laid out in front of you and that there's no changing it, but ultimately, that's not the case. No matter your situation, you always have a choice of some form; you may have the choice to change your circumstance, but even if you don't, you can still choose how you see it and how you react to it. Wallace gives the example of standing in a supermarket queue after a long day at work, growing increasingly agitated with the people around you, such as the lady holding up the queue, and then growing more agitated when you have to drive home through heavy traffic. But, as Wallace says, rather than defaulting to feeling angered or impatient, as though we personally are being victimised by those situations, we can choose to consider the bigger picture; that perhaps 'everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am', and that no one is really trying to disrupt our day; that they are all feeling exactly the same way, and by looking at it in this way, suddenly what was once an inconvenient and frustrating situation becomes somewhat less so. Sure, waiting in line when you really just want to go home and relax is frustrating, but by considering that everyone around you is in the same boat, a sense of almost camaraderie arises from that shared feeling and experience, relieving those feelings of being singled out as the victim and increasing feelings of connectedness with those around you. This however is just one example of how we can choose the way we see things, and the impact it can have on our lives.

Our lives our ours, and ours alone, and ultimately it is our choice how we fill them and how we shape them. Even if your circumstances are dictated by factors or powers that are out of your hands, you can still choose how you think and how you react. You can choose to allow yourself to become weighed down, even consumed, by unfortunate circumstances, or you can choose to accept them and rise above any negativity, taking strength from from your experience and going on to pursue a more positive future, and rather than dwelling on the bad, you can choose to give your focus to the good, and to celebrate and rejoice all of life's joys, no matter how big or small.

You can choose to close yourself from others and put up your guard, or you can choose to greet everyone you meet with nothing but warmth and compassion, no matter whether you're talking to an old friend or someone you just met on the bus. You can choose to listen, to support, and to give nothing but goodwill to others, and more often than not you'll find that you are met with the same kindness and spirit.

And rather than heading down a path that you know isn't right for you, that you know won't fulfil you, you can choose to fill your life with the things and people you enjoy, and pursue your true passions; this life is yours, and you have every right to choose what you fill it with and how you spend it.

We have always had this choice, and we always will, and if each of us was fully aware of that, we could all lead richer, fuller, more vibrant lives, and we would have the confidence to make the choices and decisions that will bring us closer to those lives.




  1. Really really loved this post Rowan. I was thinking the exact thought yesterday, when I wasn't feeling so great. Reminding myself that actually, how I feel is totally in my hands, can make me stop feeling so low and instead decide to sort ma sh*t out!

    Shona x


    1. Thank you, Shona! I'm glad it resonated with you, and I hope you get it sorted soon!


      Rowan x