This op-ed story was produced during the Fall 2020 Youth Voice Workshop.
Today, it seems like everything is out of our control: The COVID-19 pandemic is getting worse, the American political scene is in chaos, and our economy is struggling. Nothing is going right, and we feel powerless to do anything about it. But maybe that’s OK.
In these difficult circumstances, we are learning to accept the things we cannot change and to focus our energy on changing the things we can.
In March, my school, like thousands across the nation, shut down. I went from seeing my friends every day to staring at a computer screen 24/7. I realized that I could not control whether or when we would again be able to attend school in person.
What I was able to control was how I handled the situation. I could either sit around and mope or use the time to improve my life. I started to work out more often. I cleaned my room – something that was long overdue. And I even had some fun cutting my own hair.
By May, two months into the pandemic, I felt I had some control over my life.
As the summer arrived, the status of my fall soccer season was completely up in the air. I knew that I couldn’t control whether or not we would play. What I could control was whether I was ready to play.
I trained multiple days a week and, luckily, our abbreviated season happened. For the first time, I made varsity. Once again, I stopped worrying about whether we were going to play and focused my time and energy on something I could control: my soccer skills.
The Dalai Lama has said, “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”
What he meant, I believe, is that if we can do something to change a situation, then we need to get off our butts and do it. If there is nothing we can do, then we need to stop worrying and use that time and energy to do something positive.
Throughout our lives there will be things that are beyond our control. No matter how hard we try, there will be things we cannot change. We need to focus our time and energy on making a difference where we can, and not on the things over which we have no control.
We cannot determine when this pandemic will end, but we can control whether we do our part to make it go away – by wearing a mask. We cannot fix Washington, but we can be peacemakers in our own bitterly divided communities.
And most importantly, we can learn from this experience to make our lives, and those of others, better in the coming years.