Life is a school. While I can’t be certain if death is part of our graduation ceremony, or if our efforts become another point on some kind of learning curve, one thing is certain, no one can skate through life without experiencing failure and disappointment.
Have you ever wondered why this is so? Why should every single soul on this earth experience difficult setbacks? Shouldn’t pain and suffering be reserved only for those who live malevolent lives and are rotten to the core? I was an innocent ten-year-old boy minding my business when Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution turned my world upside down. Did this happen to me because of a god somewhere who gets his jollies out of watching humans suffer? No, disappointments and setbacks are not punishments, they are triggers that make us seek out that infinite spark within us, our highest self.
Pain is our tuition for self-improvement
No matter who you are, what you do or what you stand for, you have discovered that going through difficulties makes you a better, wiser and a stronger individual. Although we disdain going through trials, the personal growth we experience from them is worthwhile. I believe I am a much better person today than I was three, five, ten years ago. I am more conscious of the realities of life and of my own defeating habits and thoughts. Today I am more capable of changing the patterns that crippled me and I am living more content and fulfilled. This is hindsight speaking, of course, because I sure as hell hated the growing pains while I was living through the experience.
A Catholic priest who was a friend of mine provided a supportive shoulder during one of the most difficult times of my life. This was a period when a deep depression left me wondering if my family would not be better off without me on this earth. He reassured me that was not the case, but he often emphasized how lucky I was to be going through such trials. He would often say,
“God has given you an invitation to grow. You are so fortunate.”
I sure wasn’t feeling very lucky. The emotional pain of my loss was so great that sometimes the only comfort I found was to I lay on the floor for hours in the fetal position. Whenever my friend reminded me of my “good fortune”, all I could think of doing was to carpet bomb his head with a zillion f-bombs that would come out of my mouth.
In retrospect, I realize that my friend was right. It was out of the pain and scarring brought on by this time life that my true self emerged. However, I would not recommend that you tell friends or family that they are “lucky” to be suffering. ‘They may want to kick your ass if you do!
The hero in your story
It is no small wonder why we love rags to riches stories. This is because these stories remind us of our own heroic journey. Amid hardship, we often see ourselves as the maligned hero who comes back from oblivion and shows the world we are not the loser everyone made us out to be. But, unlike in a movie or novel, there is no pixie dust or magic words that will make our tragedies disappear in two hours. We can only overcome life’s pitfalls with the new skills we learn when we free ourselves of the old ideas and values that held us back.
No one willingly opens themselves up to these kinds of personal transformations. As humans, we don’t easily give up our pleasure and comfort. Difficult life challenges seem to be the only force that can make us leave our nest of security and head out on the journey of self-expansion. This is precisely what makes these periods invaluable.
Six things we learn from soul rattling life changes
The following is my list of the things I learned from my misfortunes. They are universally applicable.
Important things become clear when the chips are down. When you begin to analyze the reasons that led to your disappointment, you will notice that you have been dissatisfied with your life’s direction for years. This awareness will help you pull the truth out of your illusions. It will also help you identify who has been loyal to you and those who have never been. This kind of clarity is invaluable because it will motivate you to identify and take steps towards your authentic path and to distance yourself from the relationships that hurt you.
Understanding how you got yourself into the mess lead you to the first step towards developing forbearance. Patience begins when you realize, contrary to what you used to believe, that you very control in life. Once you accept that things happen in their own timing, you stop trying to force things. Patience strengthens you because it teaches you to accept and even tolerate delay. This helps you live calmly in the present where you can develop useful strategies because you are no longer getting angry and upset because things didn’t work out exactly as you desired.
Developing grit, better known as our ability to conquer challenges, is like working to strengthen a muscle. With each obstacle we overcome, we fortify our grit. The stronger our grit the better we feel about our chances of handling whatever comes at us in the future.
At sixty-seven years of age, I have experienced my share of setbacks and loss. You gain perspective when you see there are others who are overcoming even greater obstacles than the ones you must face. Perspective clears our heads and lets us know we can overcome our calamities one step at a time. Hope is a direct result of perspective, when we see that others were able to overcome even greater challenges, then we know we can transcend what has made us stumble.
There are two types of appreciation that hardships bestow on us. The first is knowing the difference between good times and bad. In the middle of our suffering, this contrast helps us appreciate what it was like when life was better and gives us hope they will come around again. The second appreciation is for the skill and tools you possess that will enable you to overcome the difficult times. You might not see them at first, but they will become apparent to you with each passing day. The great news was that, once the difficult times have passed, you will use these skills to create good and not just to survive.
If you can reflect on the past challenges, you overcame in your life, you bear witness to how you became a better person from them. This is an invaluable insight and the assurance you will become better from the lessons you are about to learn from this current setback.
When we want to improve at something, we pay for a teacher, like a personal trainer, a nutritionist, golf or tennis lessons, etc. Begin to see life transitions as a sort of boot camp for the soul. They will be painful, but the rewards are worth the suffering.
Understanding this does not make them any easier to cope with. All one can do is put your head down, live moment to moment and have faith you will emerge better than before, more equipped to handle bigger challenges, and closer to the person you were meant to be. This takes courage and energy, but the price is worth the result.
Once one has mourned the tragic loss of old circumstances, what follows is nothing less than a resurrection, but one that happens in this world and not in the hereafter.
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Going through a difficult life transition?
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