We all have habitual patterns in our lives, patterns developed over time that tell us who we are and what we can expect from life. When we're not aware of them, we simply react. We can let these patterns control us, remaining defined by our past.
Becoming aware of these old patterns gives us a choice. We can be reactive or creative, words with the same letters but opposite meanings. By using our power to choose, we can create new possibilities within and around us. As psychiatrist Viktor Frankl realized, even in the darkness of a Nazi concentration camp, the one freedom no one can take from us is our freedom to choose our response to any circumstance life brings us.
As I write this blog, I'm wearing my UCLA T-shirt. I dreamed of going to UCLA when I was a high school student in Germany, where my Air Force father was stationed, and was so excited when I received my acceptance letter. That summer, we moved to California for my father's next assignment at Norton Air Force Base near Riverside. In August, I was packing up to leave my parents' suburban house for UCLA when my mother came into my bedroom and announced, "Your father and I have transferred your acceptance to UC Riverside so you don't have to go away to college."
--"Have to?" I thought. I wanted to go away to college, to begin living life on my own, and I wanted to go to UCLA.
--When I asked my mother why, she said, "We can't afford it," and left the room.
I was new in town, had no resources, no money and felt helpless, controlled, and trapped. So I commuted to UC Riverside, worried about my parents' finances. In December, I realized my fears were unfounded when my mother got a mink coat and a new Mercedes for Christmas. There was obviously something else going on.
Refusing to surrender to the old pattern of helplessness, I took action. That summer I started working at a temp agency and saving my money. I was driving home from work one afternoon in my parents' old red Volkswagon when I passed the Press-Enterprise office on 14th Street. A thought suddenly filled my mind—"I'm a writer—I should work there." I was only a shy teenager, but I turned the car into the parking lot, walked inside, and said to a reporter, "I'm Diane Dreher. I'm a writer and I'd like to apply for a job." He ushered me upstairs to the personnel office. When I filled out the application form, they said their college intern had given notice that morning and asked "Can you begin work on Monday?"
As a Press-Enterprise editorial intern, I worked my way through the University of California, Riverside, paying for campus housing, tuition, and books, and enjoying my newfound freedom. Writing reviews and entertainment copy, I flourished in the creative atmosphere of the newsroom, working alongside professional journalists who showed me what it means to be a writer. I majored in English and Comparative Literature and graduated summa cum laude with a graduate fellowship to the PhD program in English at UCLA.
When I got to UCLA, not only was graduate school one of the best times of my life, but, looking back, I realize that my response to initial disappointment built my resilience and opened up new possibilities.
Psychologist Mary Pipher says that she always asked her clients two questions: "What did you learn from your experience" and "When you look back on this event, is there anything that you can feel proud of?" As I look back, I'm proud of that shy teenager who refused to give in to helplessness and reached out with courage to follow her dreams.
Now it's your turn
Take a long, deep mindful breath
And think of a time in your life when you overcame adversity or disappointment
How did you feel?
What did you do?
Did you release an old pattern to live more creatively?
Did you learn a valuable lesson?
And what do you feel proud of yourself for?
Remember that, as you face new challenges, you always have the power to choose.
And your choices create your future.
 Frankl, V.E. (1984). Man's Search for Meaning. New York, NY: Washington Square Press. Originally published in 1959.
 Pipher, M. (2022). A Life in Light: Meditations on Impermance. NewYork, NY: Thorndike Press, p. 17.