“Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us.” ~Stephen Covey
My partner was a well-respected bank manager in a small country town. He was rising through the bank hierarchy with good prospects for further promotion. We were thought of as a happy, close-knit family that contributed in every way we could to the local community.
Unbeknownst to us, the bank was conducting a re-assessment of their country branches. Several of the smaller banks would close and all staff would be dismissed.
Frightening words were on our lips—redundancy, fear of the unknown, financial difficulties, unexpected change, personal loss.
Little did we know how much a huge obstacle suddenly dumped in our path would affect us, particularly emotionally. Our hopes and dreams for the future—moving back to the big city to live in a “castle” with a fantastic view—were dashed.
We started to name and blame bank personnel. We asked lots of questions but the answers remained elusive.
Our totally negative and blaming attitude kept us stuck in an emotional hole. We couldn’t see how necessary it was to accept the situation emotionally, before we could do the practical stuff required to relocate and rebuild.
There was a pre-requisite to the rebuild but we missed understanding this, until…
A close friend started sending us a card every six or so days. In each card was written a quotation, the words of a song, or sentences our friend had read that she thought would be constructively helpful.
One day when a card arrived, I was feeling very down. I read the words “Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different.” (Katherine Mansfield)
The word attitude jumped right out. Changing our attitude was the pre-requisite we had missed seeing. What a realization—such a powerful one. It became the catalyst our family needed to accept our situation, stop feeling sorry for ourselves, and start to map out a recovery plan.
And it all started from a simple, thoughtful act. Our friend had helped us survive.
How can you, too, be a survivor when loss, health issues, financial challenges, or accidents block your path?
Not all your problems will be as overwhelming as the one I’ve described. Nevertheless, every problem, including insignificant ones, can be worrying, even numbing. Knowing what to do will ensure that the physical and emotional scars left by your experience will not be very deep.
Following are my five Dos and Don’ts that I documented from our experience, to help you work through every bump and hump, minor or major.
This is not your usual list of “five practical steps.”
Rather, the Dos and Don’ts are what reshaped our attitudes and emotions—a reshaping that was the pre-requisite to solving our practical issues—moving both our location and professional direction.
5 DOs and DON’Ts to Ensure Your Survival
1. DON’T bury your feelings.
Denial, anger, and anxiety are normal feelings that can accompany setbacks. They’re also positive things—stepping stones on the road to acceptance and recovery. It’s natural, too, to feel completely overwhelmed and powerless.
First, recognize and accept that the situation is real. Allow your feelings to surface and overflow. Have a cry, a yell, and a rave. You’ll empty yourself of the worst of your negative feelings and be quicker to mend and move on.
We found that taking walks in a nearby park, among trees, provided a peaceful environment for us to clarify our feelings and come to grips with the above emotions.
2. DON’T act like a victim.
Things get worse when you focus on yourself and act like a victim.
Quit blaming yourself, others, or external circumstances for what has happened. Going over and over what you should have done solves nothing. Wallowing in self-pity and beating yourself up takes your power away.
Believe in yourself and your abilities. Believe that you are awesome enough to push through to a brighter future. Read inspiring books or put sticky notes with motivational quotes around the house. Say them out loud as you walk past. Take back your power over the situation.
For us, mindfulness was a great tool to help us snap out of the victim mentality. We sat quietly for ten minutes a day and concentrated on our breathing, taking our focus away from our worries. The activity was very calming.
Being mindful gives your mind a rest. You’ll problem solve more easily with a calm mind. You’ll move from victim mode into action mode, as we did, to hasten the healing process.
3. DO keep the communication channels open.
At these difficult times, keep friends and family close by as listeners and supporters. Find someone you can confide in about the challenges you face. Together, brainstorm possible ways to move ahead.
Talking and sharing helps you see a different perspective so you can come up with creative solutions. It will also help you see that you’re not alone because others have been through equally challenging circumstances.
I found keeping in touch with my usual contacts on social media helped lighten my load. I enjoyed logging on to sites like Tiny Buddha, where I received encouragement from others in the blogging community.
4. DO be flexible.
Accept that ups and downs are an inevitable part of life. Remembering that life moves through cycles of peaks and troughs will help you look forward to the rewarding times that lie ahead.
These words from Alexander Bell, in one of our cards, gave us both a jolt. “Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open.”
Be flexible; adjust your thinking and your goals. Becoming paralyzed and inflexible by the reality of your situation might deny you the opportunity to follow a new, exciting direction. Adapt so you can survive and thrive.
Previously we were choosing to be miserable. Now we started asking empowering questions such as, “What choices do we have here?”
This form of questioning encouraged flexibility and enabled us to expand our thinking. We found ourselves probing possible alternative— in what employment areas outside banking is financial expertise sought after?
Being flexible isn’t easy. However, we found it absolutely necessary before we could move forward.
5. DO focus on the good things in your life.
Focusing on what you don’t have stops you from seeing all the wonderful things that you do have. Appreciate what you have, and the things that are working out well. You’ll gain a better perspective on life.
Rejoice in any progress you make. Reward yourself with small treats such as coffee with friends. Each step and celebration provides motivation for the next one. You’ll find relief from the stress that has enveloped you.
As a family we made a list of things we were thankful for such as good health. We included positive aspects of moving back to the city—more time to spend with our families, wider educational and sporting opportunities.
Being thankful gave us a more positive outlook. Even the “castle” came back into view.
We placed the following words where we could see them every day, and that helped too. “If you have nothing to be grateful for, check your pulse.” It’s something to smile about, eh?
Setbacks, tragedy, loss, and failures are part of life. So the joy and success we find in our daily life depends largely on the way we handle life’s problems—our attitude—as well as on our ability to keep going, no matter what.
In other words, never give up.
Setbacks are golden opportunities to learn and grow. It’s up to you to transform the pain into purpose.
Ship in a storm image via Shutterstock