Whose Life Is This, Anyway?

Are you a renter in parts of your life? Do you keep waiting for a genie to pop out of a bottle to sort out your life? Have you told yourself that there’s still time to make a change or a mid-course adjustment, but you haven’t put forth the effort to own a solution? Life’s renters act like short-timers; life’s owners act as if they’re in things for the long haul. Which are you?

Sitting in the doctor’s office recently, I thought about the evolution of the patient-doctor relationship in America as it relates to personal accountability.

Years ago, I would visit the doctor as a reaction to a problem. I went to the doctor when I was sick, I broke something, or I feared something important might fall off (at least, that’s why I think I was asked to turn my head and cough).

Being that kind of patient was easy. I would just live life to the fullest. And if something went wrong…POOF! I’d go to the doctor.

Comfort foods. Cigarettes. Booze. Sleep deprivation. Recklessness. Be honest. Have you ever sought enjoyment or escape in things that tear you down over the long haul?

I’ll be honest. I have. And when I was younger, I didn’t notice many ill-effects from the poor lifestyle choices I made. But as I get older I make more noise getting out of chair than I used to make when I would move a refrigerator up two flights of stairs. Every bad behavior, each old injury has come back to haunt me like an ingrown hair on a dog’s butt.

Back in the day, doctors would see patients when things went wrong, things stopped working properly. The doctor’s job was to patch us up the best way he could, and then send us on our way. So we could continue living life to the fullest.

But today, there’s an emphasis on wellness, preventing things from going bad. The focus shifted from fixing problems to ensuring a lifetime of better health through education and behavioral change. Doctors and patients now partner and share responsibility for personal health.

And it occurred to me that things seemed easier when I acted like a renter in my body instead of having to take responsibility to own it. When I rented my body, I made choices that were shortsighted. I would push the limits of common sense and sustainability in pursuit of short-term objectives.

I still go to my doctor for a “quick fix” when something goes wrong; but now, the doctor is asking me what kind of body and health I want in the present…and what do I expect to take with me into the future if I don’t make a change now?

Do you rent? Or do you own? If you defer to another to make you happy, feel successful, get you well or make you feel whole, you make yourself a renter instead of a owner. If you make shortsighted, pragmatic decisions to reach short-term, ever-changing objectives, you give yourself over to situations instead of taking ownership for your actions. Only by taking personal responsibility for your behaviors and outcomes can you truly own your life.

Treating life like a rental car that you can abuse and then return is unwise. When you rent the car, you’re more likely to pound it, take corners too quickly, and not care about what kind of shape it’s in when you’re done with it. When you own the car, you care for it, nurture it, baby it. The same is true with your body, your mind, your heart, and your life. Abuse it now, you might discover too late that you own it. And you can’t trade it in for a newer model.

Have you been renting your life instead of claiming your rightful role as owner? Do you keep hoping that someday they’ll find a “cure for what ails you” or that some knight in shining armor will come fix the parts of your life that bring you sorrow? Or do you own your life, taking responsibility along the way?

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