Life as a Three-Act Play

How much control do we really have over our own lives?

It’s a common question that I think everyone has grappled with at some point, and the answers are as uncertain as they are varied. Depending on your religious convictions, you might believe that your path has already been predetermined by a higher power—or, conversely, you might believe that every person begins with an equal, blank slate and everything that follows is the direct result of a choice or action. But I think the truth most likely lies somewhere in between—and, like a play, we can see the course of our life unfold in three acts.

Act One: The Past

These are the things that you cannot change. The script has been written, the stage has been set, the characters were cast before you were born. You’ve got your parents and siblings, your ethnicity, your hometown, your socio-economic standing. On top of those, perhaps you were given a childhood illness, or a car accident, or abuse. Or an eating disorder. You didn’t choose any of these things—you didn’t want many of these things—but that doesn’t matter; here they are. This is the hand you were dealt.

Act Two: The Present

Act Two is where you are living now. You’ve still got the same script and setting from Act One. But as you perform the play of your life in real-time, moving about the stage, you discover that there’s a little room for improvisation. You make a choice, you add a gesture, you skip a word, you ad lib a line—and you notice that these little tweaks have the ability to change the way you feel; your perspective shifts. You’re still acting within the confines of your stage, your cast of characters, the script you’ve memorized—these predetermined parts of your story are still there, and they’re still powerful. But you start to sorta, kinda see that maybe you’re powerful, too.

Act Three: The Future

Here’s where things start to get good, because guess what? Act Three is yours to write. You get to decide what sort of story this play becomes. Will it be a tragedy? (Life sucked when you were born, and then it sucked until you died! The End!) Or will it be an ironic comedy of errors, complete with a happy ending? Perhaps your play will become a classic “rags to riches” tale, with the hero triumphantly turning an impoverished existence into a life of abundance. You could write a story of inspiration and hope—about overcoming great obstacles and learning to not only survive but thrive, and help others do the same. Yours could be a story of profound wisdom—of plumbing the depths of human existence to re-emerge as a teacher or guide. The choice is yours.

We can’t change Act One, and Act Two is in flux. But when it comes to Act Three, we’re in charge. We get to say which characters from Act One remain, and what lessons are learned along the way, and what the meaning of the entire story winds up being.

So hold onto your pen (don’t you dare give it to someone else!) and get to writing. I can’t wait to see what you make happen.



  • Thanks so much for this beautiful metaphor. It’s such a great reminder of the power and wisdom we all hold within us to write our own stories ❤️

  • Thank you SO much for putting this out there and I am Grateful for Reading Your Inspiring TRUTHFUL Words of Wisdom and Empathy to Help Us All…For Helping Me Today! Thank you, I NEEDED THIS Today! I’ve always admired you and what you do for our community. I’ve been following you for years. Thanks again!

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