Life. It’s unexpected.
Think about how you thought your life was going to be 10 years ago…20 years ago. What you imagined is different than what actually happened, right?
Maybe you thought you would live in a large city, but ended up in a small town. Maybe you were going to get that Masters degree but then your dad got ill. Maybe you were never going to have children and now you have three. Maybe you were going to have four, but can have none.
These are things that happen, in some form or another, to all of us. Life never goes completely as planned. Maybe our unexpected change of plans turn out to be a delight. But maybe we experience changes in plans that are utterly heartbreaking.
As a therapist, I often see people who are going through scenarios they never expected. It could be job loss, a divorce, anxiety, depression, illness, trauma, or a hundred other difficulties.
So what do we do when we ordered a delicious cream tart from life and get delivered a wallop to the face instead?
One thing that all people do when faced with hardship is change. But we can change in many different ways. We could become angry and not trust life or people anymore. That might be the response that makes the most sense. Just think about the Syrian refugees.
Anger and bitterness have their place and I believe are needed emotions, but they are emotions that cannot be maintained forever without corroding the individual who is feeling them. Eventually, if our human spirit is going to survive, we must let these experiences change us in a more nourishing way. Feeling deeper connections to others who are suffering, feeling a greater sense of one’s own resilience (usually resilience we didn’t know we had), and feeling a greater bond with whatever you personally value in life are all ways in which we can be changed for the better.
With experience comes potential mastery. With difficult experience comes potentially even more mastery, more resilience, more empathy, and more perspective. These are hard, hard won prizes, but if you have to go through the difficulties anyway, don’t you want the prize?
In the midst of great challenge, these are often the questions I ask my clients:
1) Someday, when this has resolved and you are looking back on it, how do you want to say you handled this problem?
2) Someday, what do you want to say you learned from this?
3) Who do you want to be right now?
4) If you have no choice but to go through this, what do you want it to bring out in you?
5) How do you become the hero of this story?
These questions give us a broader perspective on the expansiveness that is our own life. They remind us that whatever we are going through is not forever. They remind us that although we may not be able to control our circumstances, we can choose how we respond to those circumstances. And ultimately, if we must be changed, we can choose how we change.
So, how do you want to say that life changed you?