Knowing the difference is often the hard part. If you think you are always a victim of circumstance, it's easy to become bitter, watching life pass you by while you sit on the sidelines. If you think you are in charge of everything, it's easy to become a control freak who can't let anything go.
The same is true when it comes to work and life. There are so many circumstances beyond our control, yet so many decisions to be made.
Things we don't choose: basic needs, illness, getting fired, innate temperament, talents, cost of living, family circumstances...
Things we choose: how much education we obtain, what we study, how to manage our time, what our priorities are....
But not everything divides neatly into these categories. For example, if you come from a poor family, the chances of getting an advanced education go down. If you have to work two jobs in order to pay off your medical bills, you may not have much choice about how to manage your time.
I read an article today about how many stay-at-home parents are not the rich suburban crafty types we associate with the stereotype, but rather poor women who stay home because they can't find work that will cover the cost of child care.
This presents some dilemmas: How do you make choices other people take for granted when life limits you? How do you deal with people who condemn you for your "choices" that were never available to you in the first place? Is it even possible for you to break out of the trap that such limiting circumstances cause? If so, how can you overcome those obstacles? And how do you know when it's time to just let go and accept that some things might not be possible for you right now?
You can find both schools of thought in any bookstore, from goal-setting motivational books to zen-style meditation books. I don't think there's a single solution that works for everyone, but I do think we can help each other. We can stop assuming that people live their lives differently than us because they made choices to do so. We can inspire others around us who might feel stuck by listening and sharing resources. And when we're the ones who are trapped by obstacles that seem (or really are) impossible to overcome, we have to be brave enough to reach out and ask for help.