Choose, Act, Live

William James (1842-1910) wrote:

“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”

If we get bogged down in fear about the “what-if’s” so we can’t make choices, or if, once we’ve chosen a path, we constantly second-guess ourselves with the “I-shoulda’s,” or, after our actions have borne fruit, we wallow in the “how it woulda been’s” if we’d chosen differently, … Whatever the obstacle, we are encouraged to choose, then act, then live.

Nature teaches us this over and over, but we often miss it. If an egg drops from a nest, the bird doesn’t spend all her energy grieving: she gets on with the business of her remaining eggs, hatching, feeding, fledging.

In another light, the tree doesn’t worry over the fruit that gets picked from its branches by people, or eaten off the ground beneath it by birds; it drops its leaves in autumn, brings forth buds in the spring, and produces another crop of fruit the following year.

William James also wrote:

“Sow an action, and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny.”

Our lives are a continuous stream of actions, many that we think about, many that we don’t. Action after action, year after year, we shape and are shaped.

We can teach ourselves habits to help us, or discard those that are no longer serving our purpose.

All these things together show our character, both to ourselves and to others around us. Character isn’t something you are given passively at birth, a fixed point that can’t ever be changed. We all have tendencies, but it doesn’t mean we are not fluid.

We can nurture our character, and in so doing, our destiny expands. We don’t arrive in this world with our steps already completely in order. We must first learn to crawl, then pull ourselves to standing, take our first, unsteady steps, and, finally, take flight.

Our roads aren’t always straight. Sometimes, boulders block the way, and we go around them. Or we take a turn, wander in the woods for a while before finding the road again. But if we are always learning wherever we are, either on the main road or an overgrown path, then we take the best of these meanderings and add it to what we’ve gathered before.

What habits will you teach yourself or leave behind this year?

How will your character shift or grow?

What destiny have you taken hold of, and what still lies in the distance, waiting for you to come and claim it as your own?

Explore posts in the same categories: metaphysics, spirituality

4 Comments on “Choose, Act, Live”

  1. seeing Says:

    I love this post! Thank you. what a great way to start the new year. I find myself being so impatient so often. It’s great to be reminded that I don’t need to have all the answers to be my destiny. Just put one foot in front of the other. “We can nurture our character, and in so doing, our destiny expands. We don’t arrive in this world with our steps already completely in order.” I love this. What habits will I leave behind this year. Yikes….the thought of that shakes me.
    Happy New Year.

  2. halfnotes Says:


    Maybe we should take great pleasure and anticipation in the habits we will acquire rather than fear the ones we want to leave behind. Either way, every moment of every day can be taken as a new beginning point. (This is, of course, much harder to do in real life than write about on a blog, but I’m trying!) Blessings for your New Year.

  3. ombudsben Says:

    Interesting. Tonight as I walked from work to my BART station to catch the train home I thought about Henry James, whom I have not read since college over 25 years ago, and I thought about picking up his book The Ambassadors again.

    I’m careful about what I read while I write. I don’t like to put some things in my noggin, while there are other wordsmiths who keep me on the create and marrow. (Graham Greene. Ray Chandler, lately.) James is troublesome–gorgeously elaborate, in a pre-Hemingway (streamlined) way, but byzantine and somtimes just plain fussy. And yet, and yet–there is something in the message of The Ambassadors that appeals right now.

    And now I come home to grapple further with web design tonight on my site (it feels like a job after my daytime job!) and while uploading files I check in with you and find …

    Quotes from his brother, Henry James.

    Curious, Halfnotes, curious.

  4. halfnotes Says:


    Curiouser and curiouser, indeed! I don’t think there’s “just” coincidences; maybe I’ll try “The Ambassador”. Don’t know if I’ve ever read Henry, and I’ve only read a very little William. Thanks for the push!

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