“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”—Dale Carnegie
If you are alive and breathing, it is inevitable to go through a valley in your life. If you haven’t gone through one, brace yourself, my friend, you are in for a doozy. Adversity and even traumatic events are what build us all. These situations give us experience and wisdom and help mold us into who we are today.
Saying that the tough times mold us into great people isn’t me trying to spin tough times. When you’re going through hell, it is like all that advice and wisdom goes out the window. But the older I get, the more I realize that the tough times let tough people shine through. And when the tough times pass, and they will, the victory feels so good! It allows us to grow in self-confidence and become better leaders. I’ve developed coping skills I would never have learned by reading a book or talking to an elder. The coping skills that help me through when maybe times aren’t terrible, but boy, do they hurt at the moment. Overcoming the small pains is a massive victory!
I don’t just say all of this because I read a few self-help books and listened to a few podcasts. I’ve been through some pretty tough times...
Years ago one of my businesses was in a lawsuit and it was devastating. I felt like my gut was on the ground. It ripped my heart out. In the end, it all worked out but at that moment it was too late for my reputation. I went from owning a successful multi-million dollar business (that was making a huge difference) to rock bottom. I lost everything.
I got divorced. I felt embarrassed, disappointed, and sad for my sons. I felt like I failed.
Luckily, as I was trying to pick myself up, I met my wife. But times were tough for us. I felt like I was playing darts in the dark. I knew what I was capable of, but nothing felt right during this extreme financial and emotional stress.
Doctors diagnosed my dad with bladder cancer. He needed his bladder and prostate and lymph nodes removed. I traveled back and forth from Massachusetts and Texas and tried to balance my relationship with my wife. It was overwhelming.
Alongside my wife, we cared for her terminal mom, who died from bladder cancer on my birthday. Yes, you read that correctly. Bladder cancer. Same as my dad. It seemed like the universe was laughing in our face.
I suffered from kidney stones that required multiple surgeries, and I inadvertently broke my foot while in pain in the hospital.
I built a new business in Colorado 2000+ miles away from home (and my wife). I knew this was it. I worked my entire life and built relationships all for this moment. It just involved relocating and fully immersing myself in the business, which meant being away from my wife.
I am currently caring for my Dad in Arizona, who is very ill (and 2000+miles away from my wife). As I write this, I’m facing yet another boxing match with life. COVID makes travel complicated with a very ill parent. So my wife and I have been apart for three months. I am my dad’s primary caregiver while simultaneously running a very successful business.
I’m not looking for a pity party—quite the opposite. I want you to see I am going through tough times frequently. Some days, I feel like I’m on my butt and can’t get up. But I get up. Time and time again. I never allow myself to stay down.
These moments of loss, failure, absence, and struggle challenged me to my core. I could have very quickly thrown in the towel at any point. But I didn’t. Cue Chumbawamba’s song “I Get Knocked Down” theme music.
Each situation on its own has layers of emotions. I went from feeling overwhelmed and defeated, to feeling like a failure and unlovable to feeling grief and despair. Anger, depression, and a very damaged ego could have easily won the fight. I kept on keeping on. I refused to give up even when I felt like it.
I want to think that each of these moments of adversity alone would be enough to offer wisdom, but together, I feel like my toolbox has become chockful of ways to face the battles life throws at us. I am going to talk about some of the tools I used and still use today:
1) Face it HEAD-ON
The natural thing to do when life knocks us down is to run into a cave. Coil inward and close the door. You might even lie to yourself and tell yourself everything is OK when deep down, you know it isn’t. Ignoring the situation or pretending it is OK puts a giant elephant in the room. Soon you will have nowhere to go. It would be best if you faced things head-on. Have the courage to look it in the eyes.
Sometimes there is no perfect answer. If you’re in a situation where you have to decide, you might face two terrible options. You know life will be different either way. Try to let facts rule over your emotions. Emotions can cloud up the mind. Make a list of pros/cons. Write out the feelings to get them out of the way. Name how you feel and then write the facts of the situation down. Facing things this way will help you move through the problem instead of hiding behind it.
2) Zig-Zag VS a Straight Line
Most people assume working through problems, and challenging situations are black and white, with zero gray areas. The truth is it might look different than what you think. Overcoming adversity takes time and effort, and sometimes that can be a little bit messy. One day you might feel like you can do it all; the next day, you might feel defeated. It’s more of a zig-zag through emotions and fears than a straight line from bottom to top. Even a set of steps are zig zag. Just trust that you are in the right direction only by putting in the time and effort, even if you take a step back before forward. Two steps ahead and one step back can be exhausting. But you’ll be building muscle you never knew you had! Notice patterns. Give yourself room to make mistakes but also recognize if you are reverting to malicious behavior.
3) Find an Outlet
Being gentle with yourself in the process might sound counterproductive, especially since it might feel like a drill instructor is screaming in your face, “Get up!!!!”. But in this crazy time of navigating the obstacles, you must allow yourself to feel the feelings I mentioned in step 1 and then find a way to release them.
For me, one way I release my feelings is by punching a heavy bag. We have boxing gloves and a heavy bag in our garage. Sometimes I need to take a few and let it all out! It will look different for you, but some ideas are going for a hard run, lifting weights, or even just letting out a huge scream. My wife tends to use creative outlets to release feelings from painting to gardening to the sewing machine. She finds a project and attacks it. The point is, as long as you have a way to let it all go, it doesn’t matter what you choose.
4) Flow Chart Your Fears
Take whatever situation you’re in and grab a piece of paper and pen. Write it at the top of the page and then analyze if/then until the page is full. It might look like “what will happen then?” and “what will I do if that happens next” Flow chart all your fears. You’ll soon notice the worst-case scenario isn’t so bad, and if it is terrible, you’ll have a better understanding of what you might be facing. You can go from feeling paralyzed to productive and able. It’s a great exercise.
5) Friends Will Leave You Disappointed
Tell this to my 25-year-old self, and I’d laugh. “No way! My friends have my back no matter what! I’d do anything for them, and they would do anything for me!” Oh man, this is far from the truth. Some people don’t know what to do for you and end up parting ways. Others will use your weak position for their benefit. Some will only fail to be there for you the way you need them. They get caught up in their own lives and don’t lean into yours. Typically, it is the friend you hold on the pedestal, the one you know will be supportive that fails you. Oddly enough, there might be someone who you can lean on, but rarely will it be who you think. Although having friends disappoint us is just a part of life and hard to digest, it is crucial to accept. Some people teach us things in their exit; some teach us something in their support. No one has a crystal ball. But you’ll know when the going gets tough. In this way, it helps us have gratitude for everyone because they help shape us. If someone doesn’t stand by you or disappoints you, it’s not your fault, and it is not your responsibility to get them on board. It’s OK to feel disappointed. Still, let them go.
It seems like this is the keyword of 2020. But it’s true. Sometimes, pivoting from one place to another moves you closer to where you need to go. Pivoting requires a mind shift, but it’s beneficial. If you change your perspective and do a little pivoting, you’ll soon be aiming in the best direction. And pivoting often takes less effort than finding an entirely new path. Pivoting gives you momentum and helps you recover from a challenging period.
The storm brings a rainbow. The dust settles. Things DO get better. Remind yourself it gets better every day. The more you keep focused and keep your eye on a brighter time, the better you will feel. One way is to find your positive affirmation and repeat it over and over again. Write it on a post-it note and stick it on your bathroom mirror. Get creative. Remember that this situation won’t stay difficult forever. Comment with what your affirmations are! Some ideas:
When life knocks you down, I hope you’ll reach in your toolbox and face the challenge head-on. Navigating the situation will be messy, but I can assure you by using an outlet to release your emotions and a little permission to feel fear, you can get up again. Keep in mind your friends will likely disappoint you, but you can pivot and persevere. It will get better. Hold your affirmation high (make a killer playlist to listen to) and press on!
I can’t believe it, but I’m grateful for all the challenges I’ve faced. It has helped me learn so much about myself and others. It helps me be extra thankful for the blessings in my life and has made me stronger, wiser, and more experienced.
It’s a work in progress for sure.
I’m off to throw some punches to the tune of Eye of the Tiger!