“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” ~Pericles
Life is full of challenges. These obstacles are the greatest teachers we can have.
As I’m sure is true for all of us, I have struggled with many things throughout my life. I used to feel a sense of “woe is me,” but I’ve learned to leverage these experiences to make positive changes in life.
Don’t let your history dominate your life. We have a choice. You can let your past be the ruler of your life—or, you can make a choice to change your attitude and perspective.
I grew up in a dysfunctional family. My parents showed little in the way of affection, and I dare say they stayed together “for the kids.” This was a recipe for disaster. Water boils at 212 degrees, and our family was moving closer to that boiling point on a daily basis.
The inevitable collapse came to fruition during the summer of my freshman year of college, in 1995. After an intense argument, I had to separate my parents from a potentially disastrous physical altercation.
A call to the police was made, and my dad was taken to jail for the night. Twenty-six years of marriage gone in an instant. That was it. My dad moved out the next day.
I felt extreme guilt. I was faced with unending questions about what I could’ve done to save my parents’ marriage. I didn’t allow myself to grieve. I felt the grief my parents were feeling was enough for all of us.
I buried these feelings and numbed myself. My negativity and destructive thinking overwhelmed me. I was never the same as a college athlete, as I let my personal challenges affect my confidence. My relationship was never the same with my girlfriend. It eventually went up in smoke.
My biggest mistake was never talking to anyone about what I was going through. I turned to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain. This only caused more problems.
It took many years for me to come to the realization that this wasn’t my fault. My immaturity and lack of perspective placed a burden on me that I thought was insurmountable. As the years went by, I learned to open up and seek help.
I eventually made a decision: I could be the victim of my past and let life go by. Or, I could take control and learn from these experiences.
If you take this “learning” approach, you change your perspective. You don’t forget your past, but you find a way to push forward because you appreciate what the bumps in the road taught you about who you want to be. The beautiful part about life is that we all have the ability to make changes.
As I began to view my past through the lens of learning, I started making better choices.
My career began to flourish. The constant anxiety I felt started to diminish because my focus turned to what I could control, and to my future. I met an amazing girl, who I eventually married. We now have two incredible children and I couldn’t ask for more out of life.
Now, my complete focus is living for today and building for the future. I feel a sense of purpose—to create a great life for me and my family, and to help people however I can.
I’ve learned that this is the true meaning of life. One of my favorite quotes is by Arthur Ashe, “You make a living by what you get; however, you make a life by what you give.”
Do I struggle with my past from time to time? Absolutely. When I find myself dwelling, I remember that these experiences helped me learn to appreciate and enjoy the good things in life.
We all experience setbacks. Don’t drown in negativity. Ask for help if you need it. Whether you consult a professional or simply confide in a friend or family member, open up. Is this easy to do? Hell no. I promise you, however, it will help immensely.
Embrace your challenges, knowing they don’t have to rule your life. You can’t control the past or the future, but you can control what you do today.
Photo by Bruno_Caimi