The Right of Self-Determination

By Kerry Labendz

When I was a kid, I was really into reading Choose Your Own Adventure books. I liked them because there were a lot of different stories contained within one book and, more importantly, because I always had the power to go back and change the story if it headed in a direction I didn’t like. This genre of book is a great metaphor for life in that we almost always have the opportunity to restart our stories and go in a different direction. Most of us don’t seem to do that though, do we? We stubbornly stick to the path that we’re on because we’ve already invested a lot of time. We mistakenly believe that if we aren’t fulfilled or content it is because there is something wrong with us instead of examining whether we might just be going down a path that doesn’t serve our needs very well. If you feel like something in your life is off-kilter, it might be time to make a change.

To truly transform your life, you need to find a path that suits you and then commit yourself to following it.

How often have you felt that even though you’ve done everything right, things aren’t how you’d like them to be? That you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do, but somehow your life doesn’t feel like it fits you? A lot of people feel this way. It usually means that you’re not on a path that is right for you. Possibly your path is one that you didn’t choose for yourself. You chose it to make someone else happy, or maybe you thought at one time that it was what you wanted, but your priorities have changed. Whatever the reason, it is never too late for a course correction.

The right of self-determination is something that we often forget we have. I spent years achieving every goal that I set, or that was set for me, while not really feeling a sense of accomplishment or pride because my goals weren’t personally meaningful. My goals didn’t resonate with me because I wasn’t working toward something I cared about. I worked in a field that allowed me to pay my bills and have enough money left over to indulge in some luxuries. I would see shows, take classes, and travel because these experiences were what I truly valued, not the work that helped me to afford them. I was pretty miserable in my day-to-day life at the office. When something as time-consuming as a full-time job causes misery, it tends to affect other areas of life as well. I knew that I could have better experiences every single day if I left my job, but it was hard to walk away from the security of a regular paycheck and company subsidized insurance benefits. I finally became more frightened of being miserable until retirement than I was of leaving. Choosing to make my every day better was a scary decision, but my life has transformed for the better in ways that I could never have imagined when I was slogging through my days at a job that wasn’t right for me.

Choosing your own path is really difficult.

From a young age you’re shifted into different tracks at school, with parents and teachers deciding what you’re good at and what you should spend your time pursuing. You become conditioned to pay attention to, and to value, other’s opinions of you over your own. You are graded and evaluated in ways that will determine your future. It is very rare that we are truly encouraged to find our own path in life. People who find a way to break the mold and go their own way often fight an uphill battle. Still, some of the people we most admire are the ones who do things in their own unique way.

There are many examples of entrepreneurs, artists, and inventors who have done things their own way; Thomas Edison, Susan B. Anthony, Mother Theresa, and Bill Gates are just a small sample. They disregarded the social constraints that didn’t feel right to them and they forged fulfilling lives on their own terms. It is hard not to admire someone who does that isn’t it? What is it that keeps more of us from taking that road? You may be anxious about having to figure everything out on your own. Choosing your own path means that there is no template to follow. That’s scary, but it can also be exciting. Do you worry about how people will react if you make a choice to change your life’s direction? Those who truly have your best interests at heart will want you to be happy and fulfilled. Communicate openly and honestly with them to enlist their support. People who forge their own path are highly successful, although not always in a conventional way. Most won’t ever be millionaires or famous, but they will feel fulfilled and be happy. That seems pretty successful to me.

I believe that the increase in the number of people who have second, and sometimes third, careers these days is due to the greater understanding that we gain of ourselves as we age. That understanding, coupled with the knowledge that we have a limited lifetime, moves us toward making changes. Eventually we grow tired of doing things we don’t love, or even particularly like, just to achieve things we don’t want or to please other people. If there is something that you’ve always wanted to do or try, what is holding you back? Is there really any legitimate reason for not pursuing your dreams? We often fear looking silly or losing something that is important to us when we make major life changes, but if your fear of leading an unfulfilled life is growing, then you may be ready to begin following your dreams. Give yourself the right of self-determination. Seek out a life of fulfillment and happiness.

Kerry Labendz, MA, is a CCA Certified Life Coach who specializes in helping busy professionals find a work/life balance and create an overall state of well-being. After 15+ years in the corporate world, she can relate to the pressures her clients face and appreciate and how difficult it can be to have a life beyond the office. She helps her clients channel some of their drive and ambition toward their personal lives. Along with her Coaching certification, Kerry holds a Master’s in Psychology from New York University and did her undergraduate work in Psychology and Women’s Studies at Skidmore College.

This article is a chapter from the book Transform Your Life! written by 60 real-life heroes and experts and available at,, and all ebook formats.


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