Bill Abbate

How familiar are you with the seemingly ordinary, everyday word circumstance? Are you aware of the depth and breadth of its effects on and in our lives? Let’s ask and answer some questions to better understand the word and its impact.

For example, are we at the mercy of circumstances that occur out of the blue, or do we have some control and perhaps create them? Are circumstances good or bad, or neither good nor bad? Do they exist internally, externally, or both?

Do we have a choice, or are we stuck with life’s circumstances? What are necessary, extenuating, favorable, and unusual circumstances? If some circumstances are unusual, which are common?

This list of questions can go on and on because circumstances affect every area of life. Let’s see if we can come to a more straightforward conclusion about the concept of circumstances.

Circumstance defined

The word circumstance often describes something beyond our control, although it can mean far more. A circumstance can be practically anything that affects something else in life.

A typical definition of circumstance is:

Circumstance (noun) — a fact or condition connected with or relevant to an event or action. — an event or fact that causes or helps to cause something to happen, typically something undesirable. Oxford Languages

To clarify this definition further, let’s look at a few synonyms of circumstance:

  • Situation
  • Occurrences
  • Conditions
  • Events
  • Happenings

Each of these words indicates circumstances can be in or beyond our control.

But how do we simplify circumstances enough to understand them better? One of the best explanations I have uncovered is breaking them down by existing and future. Let’s look at these two to see if we can better understand them.

Existing circumstances

Circumstances exist everywhere in life. Some people think they are beyond their control and believe they can only deal with or ignore them. Others posit they can influence and exert some control over many circumstances through their actions.

The important thing about any circumstance is recognizing and using it to decide what to do next. Regardless of the situation, it gives you a starting point to move forward.

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” Nido R Qubein (1948-present)

Once a circumstance exists, it is unchangeable, but how you deal with it is not fixed in stone. You can retreat in fear, cowering to it, or face it directly. The choice is yours to make. Why not take the can-do approach to existing circumstances, and seek a way to overcome them or turn them to your advantage? While you are at it, do what you can to not allow those you don’t want to repeat themselves.

“A positive attitude gives you power over your circumstances instead of your circumstances having power over you.” Joyce Meyer (1943-present)

You have free will, so you can make your own choices rather than bow to the demands of circumstances. By making the right choices, you gain control over many of them.

“You can’t let your current circumstances dictate what kind of choices you make.” Kelly Clark (1983-present)

While you may or may not have taken some part in creating the existing circumstances, you always have options and possibilities to explore, and because of them, you can do what is needed to move forward.

“You are not your circumstances. You are your possibilities. If you know that, you can do anything.” Oprah Winfrey (1954-present)

How you think and your attitude about life, including your inherent state of happiness, highlights who you are.

“Circumstances will never determine your amount of happiness. Circumstances only highlight who you already are.” Dan Miller (1941–2009)

Future Circumstances

While existing external circumstances are unchangeable, how you deal with them is not. To be mature and responsible for who you are and what you do is something only you control.

Some future circumstances are beyond your control. For example, seasons occur regardless, and the weather will be what it will be. But not every future circumstance is fixed, with many resulting from your actions.

Change yourself, change what you do and how you do it, and your future circumstances will change accordingly.

“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change [some] circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” Jim Rohn (1930–2009)

You are only a product of your circumstances if you believe you are subject to them. Don’t lie to yourself. They do not have to have that kind of power over you!

You are a product of your decisions that create your future circumstances. You have control over these decisions and the outcomes they produce.

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” Stephen Covey (1932–2012)

Whenever you find difficult circumstances in your career, marriage, or anywhere else in life, you have choices available to you. Why not learn, explore your options, seek counsel, find wisdom, and become more than you are now? This way, you can influence and change future circumstances.

“Don’t allow circumstance to hold you back- even negative ones. You don’t have to let your circumstances define you. You can define yourself, and the best way to find yourself is through education. “Mary Hatwood Futrell (1940-present)

You have at least two options in life. You can let circumstances run your life. Or, you can learn to master them. The choice is yours. Which do you prefer?

“We can let circumstances rule us, or we can take charge and rule our lives from within.” Earl Nightingale (1921–1989)

By making well-thought-out decisions, you take part in creating your future circumstances.

Let Emerson’s advice determine whether you are strong enough to effect change.

“Shallow men believe in luck, believe in circumstances: it was somebody’s name, or he happened to be there at the right time, or it was so then, and another day it would have been otherwise. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)

Some thoughts about circumstances

Circumstances can be big or small, near or far, short or long, all simultaneously!

Think about a significant circumstance you may find yourself in — marriage. You have created a multitude of circumstances by choosing to marry. Marriage is a big decision that creates short- and long-term consequences for your life. The immediacy of romance and intimacy can last longer with the right effort but tends to wax and wane over time. There are finances to manage, homes and vehicles to maintain, and many other responsibilities of being a couple. And let’s not forget the impact of children and their long-term effects and results in life!

Let’s now look at a smaller, less consequential circumstance — getting a speeding ticket. It may seem a big deal at the time, but its consequences are relatively minor. It makes an immediate impact that will become distant in the future. In other words, in the short term, your insurance costs may increase; however, the ticket should have little effect over time unless you keep speeding and getting caught! All you need to do to avoid such further consequences is stop speeding! You can either learn a lesson from the circumstance or be doomed to repeat it.

“Wise men put their trust in ideas and not in circumstances.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)

The great thing about circumstances is they can help us understand our capabilities as human beings and how we have more control than we realize.

“Man is not the creature of circumstances, circumstances are the creatures of men. We are free agents, and man is more powerful than matter.” Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881)

Final thoughts

You gain a different perspective on life by examining existing and future circumstances. While you can’t change current circumstances, you can learn from them by examining your role in creating them. You can make different choices to mitigate or eliminate them now and in the future, improving the circumstances in your life and the world. While you are at it, ask yourself, “How can I create and leverage future circumstances?”

The best wisdom on the subject is to take control of and deal with current circumstances while shaping those to come by your decisions and choices.

In the end, it is your choice. You can decide what you do with the circumstances you find yourself in. You get to choose who you want to be, despite the circumstances surrounding you.

One final bit of wisdom from a life well lived by the 1st First Lady of our country. Please take time to consider her message carefully.

“I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.” Martha Washington (1731–1802)

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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