She was stuck in a dead-end marriage to her second-choice husband.

It was a chilly London afternoon, the wind whipping the leaves around in mini-tornadoes, as we walked up the street. I knew she had it bad.

We walked and talked, about choices, and love, and the opportunity for new beginnings. I thought I was making headway. I explained to her that her life wasn’t over - far from it! She was young, beautiful, and successful, and she had every opportunity ahead of her. She could make real change, I said, beseeching her to take control of her life.

I have one message that I want to give to the world before I die. One message that I see stolen from people by overprotective parents, uninspiring teachers, and a nanny-state.

You have agency. You are powerful. You are in control of your life.

She didn’t think she was. She felt trapped, pressured by family and community to stay where she was, scared of the uncertainty of the future. Paralysed by indecision. Victimised by her circumstances.

We feel like we’re victims. Feel like we’re justified in being where we are because it’s not our fault, because we just got dealt a bad hand. Because we’re underprivileged, because we’re kept down.

I don’t believe this is true, not for one second. Are people dealt bad hands? Yes. Are people underprivileged? Certainly. Do people need help? Without question. But there will never be a more underprivileged, beaten down, subjected-to-the-worst-circumstances person than Victor Frankl.

Frankl survived the death camps of Nazi Germany. A psychotherapist by training, he used his time in the camps to analyse why some people survived and others wilted away. Here was the great, if supremely evil, natural experiment - the great equaliser. They were all vermin in the eyes of their captors, sub-human filth to be disposed of as quickly and efficiently as possible. And yet, Frankl saw, some survived. He survived.


Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Frankl understood that life is not about what happens to you. That's just raw data; it's up to you to form your own theory and conclusions. The question is - how do you view what happens to you? What's your perspective?

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

This is where agency begins.

The truth is, I don't think she ever felt she had agency. Her first engagement, to the love of her life, was broken up by an intrusive family and her own indecision. Her life was full of other people's ideas.

Changing perspective, putting the pieces back together in a new way, forming a new story, is the most powerful of self-transformation tools, yet we hardly ever utilise it.

At this point, many people respond with some version of the following - “but I’ve already invested so much,” “my life is on a certain trajectory,” “I’ve studied for too many years for this to give it up now,” “It’s too late for me.” All of those excuses are true, but they’re just that - excuses. We get so used to justifying our behaviour at school or work that we don’t realise that when it comes to our lives, excuses are worse than useless. We’re still the ones who have to pick up the pieces, who have to live with ourselves, only now it’s harder because we feel absolved of responsibility.

Ultimately, your life is yours and yours alone. The one giving an accounting of your life, of the quality of your days, will be you. You are the one who has to suffer the misery of a life poorly chosen.

Don’t waste another minute living any life other than your best. Choose your life, don’t let it slide by on its default settings. Don’t let choices a seventeen-year-old you made dictate what your life will look like at seventy.

The most wonderful part of this entire thing is that when you make those changes, when you take that 90-degree turn, you have an entire life of experiences to draw from. Your past isn’t lost into the ether. You can, instead, integrate what you’ve been into who you become, and be all the more powerful for it. This is actually the secret that lies at the heart of the Jewish concept of teshuva - return.

We are taught that Teshuva, at its most powerful, can turn sins into virtues. It’s exactly this process that unlocks that power, that process of integration and unification of our identities. Where you’ve been and what you’ve done, the hours spent on this or that, are not gone forever. They’re there, waiting for you to change the story you tell yourself about them.

A young man once wrote a letter to his Rabbi, complaining that he was never going to amount to anything. His life was too ridden with sin and poor choices, and he felt like he’d missed the opportunity to truly become great.

The Rabbi, Yitzchak Hutner, responded with a powerful letter of affirmation. He wrote with love and compassion, “pressing the boy to his heart”. He wrote of how the very fact that the student was still trying to become great spoke volumes of his character. And he wrote of the process, of how no one is born great.

We mustn’t erase the process of becoming and skip right to the end of the story.

King Solomon, famous for his wisdom, wrote that “seven times a righteous person will fall and get back up”. Rabbi Hutner explained that this doesn’t merely mean that a righteous person perseveres. It means that one can only become righteous through the failures and the falling.

Making mistakes in life is a feature, not a bug.

Life can be brutal. It can be unforgiving. But that doesn’t mean, not for one second, that your story is over. As long as you have breath in your lungs and blood pumping through your veins, you can change your life. You can walk in a new direction. You can change your perspective and see with new eyes.

To this day, she lives her life on default. In some sense, her lack of choice is a choice in itself, a choice to let her life drift. But I will never stop hoping, hoping that one day she sees who she could be.