How To Not Go About Change

We've all heard about people who suffered some terrible accident or illness and came out the other side, altered, grateful to be alive, changed into the person they always longed to be. Life is indifferent to the ego and its individual story.
07/26/2016 08:24 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Back when I was a newspaper reporter I once interviewed a female artist who made (amongst other things) exquisite brightly patterned rag rugs. After thoroughly discussing cotton, rag sources and homemade dyes, eventually we got into the topic of how she became an artist.

"As a kid I was always drawing and making clothes for my dolls and designing clothes for myself," she said. "I loved fabrics. But ... "

Like so many of the right-brain persuasion, Juliette's parents didn't encourage her. In fact, they refused to let her take art lessons of any sort, and by the time she left high school she was thoroughly brainwashed into thinking art was a foolish idle dream.

One husband, three kids, and 18 years later, she was miserable. Trapped in a dead-end marriage with an indifferent man, a slave to her children, a cashier at her local town supermarket, Juliette was convinced nothing good could ever come of her life.

"I used to wait until everyone was asleep at night and get up and read the out-of-date craft magazines from the store until the wee hours," she said. "And I cried a lot. Or at least that's what I remember."

Which was an odd thing to say. So I asked, "What do you mean?" And that's when her story went from the typical dreary tale of resistance to change and the suffering that inevitably comes when we reject our dreams to ... amazing.

"I was in a car accident driving home one night," she said. "A drunk driver hit me and I was in a coma in the hospital for three weeks. And when I woke up," she shrugged, "I didn't know who I was. Everything was a total blank."

"Could you speak? Did you recall language?" I asked, shocked.

Turns out she remembered everything practical to live life, just not her name or people or circumstances or anything from her childhood. "Eventually most of it came back. Or at least a lot of it." She sighed. "I can't tell you how weird it was to leave the hospital with a man I didn't know and go live with him and a bunch of bratty kids I didn't like.

"After about a month I just left."

"You walked out?" I asked, surprised.

"Why not?" she replied. "I didn't know these people. That's what I told my husband. I said, 'Look. I don't know you and I don't want to know you. And from what I've seen of these kids that are supposedly mine? They're awful. None of you are nice people and I'm ashamed of the person I must have been to put up with you and raise them to be this way."

And with that she left, got her own apartment and got a job in an artist's studio and started painting. Then she learned fabric art and dyeing and rug making. Ten years later, the rest was history.

And the moral of the story is ... ?

We've all heard about people who suffered some terrible accident or illness and came out the other side, altered, grateful to be alive, changed into the person they always longed to be. Life is indifferent to the ego and its individual story. If there is a soul longing that is not being expressed -- a passion so great it cannot be denied -- life will sometimes make the move for us if we don't elect to change and break past our programming ourselves.

But Christ, who wants to change that way? How much better to do the job yourself?

So next time you find yourself thinking, "I can't do this" or "I can't do that," try pretending you're not you. You aren't who really think you are anyway. It's all a story in your head. So try letting it all go for a little while -- who you think you are and what's okay for you to do and not do. Wipe the chalkboard of your brain clean. Pick a new avatar. Play a new game. Be a new you. If only for a day or for a weekend, be the person you've always wanted to be and see where the new road takes you.