Life happens. When we’re the least prepared. Whether we like it or not. We’re going along minding our own business, and BAM! Something happens that knocks us off our feet. We lose not only the life we led, but also who we are, as we scramble to regain our footing.
When Option A crumbles at your feet, how can you thrive in the midst of the pain? Maybe even because of it?
Here are three important steps you can take to thrive when you’re left with Option B:.....
Believe It’s Not Personal
When tragedy strikes, it’s easy to feel like we’re singled out. Like we’re the only one suffering. Our culture feeds into this by telling us our life should be problem-free. If it isn’t, someone must be at fault.
The Bible says it rains on the good and evil alike. And yet somewhere along the way I absorbed the belief that my life should glide along without significant problems. That somehow if I was good enough or prepared enough, I’d avoid them.
I didn’t realize I felt that way until my husband Jerry suddenly died. If you had asked me if I believed it rains on everyone no matter how good they are, I would have said “Absolutely.” But It turned out my subconscious mind felt differently. Once the acute grief and shock lifted, I was left with the secondary pain of “How could this have happened to me?!?” My reality collided with my expectation of a pain-free (or at least limited problem) life, which left an impact of epic proportions.
Martin Seligman says that personalization can stunt our growth following a tragedy. It can keep us stuck. I know I was. I didn’t enjoy where I was or who I was. I was always comparing now to what had been. I concluded my life was effectively over. What remained was a shadow of my former life, and didn’t resemble anything I would ever wish on my worst enemy, let alone choose for myself.
The truth is that pain happens to everyone. It is no respecter of persons. It just is. I haven’t been singled out, and neither have you. When you truly understand that pain is a natural part of life, it frees you. You no longer have to fight it as a personal attack. And then you’re free to take the next action.
Embrace the Pain
This goes beyond understanding pain as natural. It means to actually embrace it for the gift it is. Even though our natural instinct is to turn and run in the opposite direction as quickly as possible. Resist it with every ounce of energy we have. Or take on a victim mindset. Yes, our instinct is to protect ourselves at all costs.
After my husband died, I tried both running and fighting. I ran from the pain by keeping myself as busy as I possibly could. I figured if I ran fast enough, it couldn’t catch up. And I also confronted the pain by announcing it had no power over me. Basically, I tried to yell loudly enough so the pain would get scared off. (It sounds silly in hindsight, but seemed perfectly logical at the time.)
Neither worked. The pain was faster than I, it had more stamina, and no amount of shouting scared it away. It was always there.
Until I embraced it. Danced with it, so to speak. Kept it close enough so I knew where it was. Included it as part of my life.
Picture a warm embrace with someone you love. It’s close and yet somehow soft as you wrap your arms around one another. It’s a position of trust. Intimacy.
That’s what pain can be. When you breathe into the pain, look into its eyes, that’s when you can see the gift buried deep inside. That’s when you can see that life and pain can not only coexist, but that life can grow out of pain. In fact, it’s when growth is most likely to happen. Which leads to our third action…
Grow and the Song Becomes More Beautiful
Pain is what causes your greatest growth, but it’s not guaranteed. Growth happens when you let who you were die so you can become someone you’ve never been. Growth happens when you embrace the unknown, see strength in weakness, and decide to make each moment count.
Growth happens when you seek to learn from pain, even when you didn’t apply to the school. When you seek patience. Empathy. Gratitude. Resilience. Growth can also happen when you recognize a deep place that needs healing. A place that only showed up because it was cracked wide open.
Like a melody that changes rhythm, tone, or key, your life is made more beautiful as it weaves together joy and sorrow, laughter and tears. And joins with the songs of fellow singers.
Is it easy? No. Is it fun? Not a chance. But then again, neither is running or hiding from pain. The pain wins every time. So why not embrace pain and grow from it?
“The best way out is always through.” –Robert Frost
Now it’s your turn to share. What’s something you’ve learned from pain that probably wouldn’t have happened any other way? Share in the comments section below.
Kathleen Thompson has worked for several years in the financial services industry, more recently as a technology leader. She now devotes her time to writing, coaching and speaking.
She is also a singer and actress, and has been on stage for most of her life. She has been speaking publicly for many years, from live presentations and workshops to interactive virtual webinars.
She was married to her husband, Jerry Palmer, for twenty years until he died suddenly. His death, and a serious illness she experienced in 2011, have fuelled her desire to help others thrive in the midst of change and make their lives sing.
Her blog and podcast can be accessed here.
You can learn more about Kathleen here.