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Life Doesn't Just Happen to Us

You can change without growing, but you can’t grow without changing.

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The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who was a contemporary of Confucius, Lao Tsu, and the Buddha, is reported to have said, “you can never walk though the same river twice.” More accurately, the English translation from the Greek goes thus: “The river where you set your foot just now is gone—those waters giving way to this, now this.” Put simply, Heraclitus is telling us that we live in an ever-changing world, one that is filled with the ebbs and flows of life, of life energy. He’s also advising us that, as the river (of life) changes, it’s in the past, so let it go and move on. The “new” river offers water that is filled with possibilities and untapped potential, so be prepared to go with the flow! This is great advice as we prepare for the New Year, don’t you think?

Against this life-affirming backdrop, Heraclitus also said, “The sun is new again, all day.” Now think about this simple-sounding statement for a moment, again especially as we all prepare for the New Year. Each new day represents a window of new opportunities, new adventures, and new life experiences! It’s up to us, each and every one of us, however, to decide whether we want to step out into the light of the new day sun or hide in the sun’s shadows and act as if life just happens to us.1 It’s our choice, our personal responsibility. And remember, the world around us is going to change whatever we may decide, whether we like it or not. Indeed, there is another saying that goes like this: If you want things to stay the same, then something is going to have to change!2

Another “philosopher” for our times is Phil Jackson, widely considered to have been one of the greatest coaches in the history of the National Basketball Association. In his book Sacred Hoops, Jackson, citing the French poet Paul Valéry, cautions us to remember that the best way to realize our dreams is to wake up!3 In other words, our best days, our best years, and our best life can and will be more than just dreams if we “wake up” and take action (that is, not simply decide to do something, but actually do it!).

The world-renowned psychiatrist and existential philosopher, Viktor E. Frankl, author of the classic bestseller, Man's Search for Meaning, famously espoused that each person should not ask what the meaning of her or his life is, but, instead, should recognize that it is s/he who is being asked. Put differently, each person is continuously being questioned by life; and can only answer for her or his own life.

All that is good and beautiful in the past is safely preserved in that past. On the other hand, so long as life remains, all guilt and evil are still “redeemable”...this is not the case of a finished film... or an already existent film which is merely being unrolled. Rather, the film of this world is just being “shot.” Which means nothing more or less than that the future—happily—still remains to be shaped; that is, it is at the disposal of man’s responsibility.—Viktor E. Frankl4

So, with the New Year just around the corner, what do you want to do with your life, including your work life? Are you willing to step out into the sun’s light and make each new day the best ever by taking advantage of what it has to offer you, as well as what you have to offer it? No matter how hard you try, you can rest assured, according to Heraclitus, that you really won’t walk through the same river twice.

So take that step. It's a new day, one that, as Dr. Frankl wisely advised, is at your disposal and still remains to be shaped! And guess what? When you get used to thinking, believing, and acting in this way, you’ll find that there are better days to come. By not holding yourself a prisoner of your own thoughts, you can now look forward with enthusiasm and true optimism to your most meaningful year ever!


1. Pattakos, A., and Dundon, E. (2017). Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl's Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work, 3rd edition. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, p. 8.

2. Pattakos, A., and Dundon, E. (2015). The OPA! Way: Finding Joy & Meaning in Everyday Life & Work. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 203.

3. Jackson, P., and Delehanty, H. (1995). Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior. New York: Hyperion, p. 9.

4. Viktor E. Frankl. Keynote Address, Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, Anaheim, California, December 12-16, 1990. See also: Alex Pattakos and Elaine Dundon, Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work, 3rd edition. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2017, pp. 74-75.