We hear it all the time: we have the freedom to choose… no matter the circumstance. Is it always true?

Imagine a friend I’ll call Patricia. I met Patricia in College; we became close friends because I admire her ambition and attitude towards life.

She’s always given her best in everything she’s involved in. With little surprise, Patricia graduated, making the dean’s list.

Upon graduation, Patricia set her sight on one of the most prestigious management consulting firms in the world. After going through the five-stage selection process, she was not selected. To add to her woes, her mother fell gravely ill.

As the only child, she felt obligated to leave the city to care for her mother. Not willing to give up on her dream, Patricia applied for another firm closer to her mother’s hut. But it will take her around three to six months to prepare for the selection process.

In her quest to care for her mother, she takes a part-time job at a fast-food restaurant. She has to work during the day and study at night.

Would you say Patricia has the choice?

Yes, Patricia has the choice, but only regarding time. Within the six-month interview preparation time, she is constrained by the need to provide for her mother, which is a situation outside her sphere of influence. That would be stony-hearted to let her mother perish in the name of personal freedom, wouldn’t it?

Some of us get stuck in a situation while doing our best to get out of it. But change takes time. All we can do is to give our best every day until we can reach our goal. Chris Gardner slept on the street with his son, all the while working on his dream. Did he choose to live on the streets? I don’t think so. Today, he is one of the most respected business minds in America.

We don’t operate in a vacuum. Our actions and results depend on several factors, many beyond our control. We are never 100 percent in control of our actions, much less the results we get.

Next time, dig a little deeper before you blame yourself or someone else for their situation. You may find the following quote from Epictetus useful.

“To accuse others for one’s own misfortune is a sign of want of education. To accuse oneself shows that one’s education has begun. To accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one’s education is complete.”