“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” ~C.S. Lewis
Have you ever been cruising down the highway of life only to unexpectedly hit a major pothole that completely threw you off? Maybe you lost a job, ended a relationship, or were betrayed by a friend.
It’s easy to wonder “why did this happen to me?” and stay buried in the pothole. It’s up to us to break free and regain our cruising speed on our life journey. Easier said than done, right?
I hit a major pothole in my professional life that blindsided me and left me feeling alone and unsure of what to do. Through this experience, I learned a lot about getting out of the pothole and getting back to living my fullest life. Let me start by telling you a little about my journey to the pothole.
I grew up very much an academic, excelling in school all the way through the ranks of getting a Ph.D. in Operations Research (which is essentially applied math).
After that final graduation, I went off into the work force to put all of my newly learned skills, tools, and techniques to work. I worked as an analyst directly for two US federal agencies and also at a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC).
While at the FFRDC, I began talking to two colleagues/ friends, and we decided that we should strike out on our own. We started an analytical consulting company and began pursuing federal contracts. We were very successful.
As with most businesses, we had our ups and downs, but overall life was good. As owners, our skill sets complemented each other very well, but we did have some differences in our business philosophies that in the back of my mind I always viewed as a ticking time bomb.
Fast-forward six years. All of sudden I found myself at real odds with my business partners and everything began to unravel. My partners gave me an ultimatum that was crushing, and I was forced to move on.
It was unexpected, and I was deeply hurt. I didn’t know where to turn. I had devoted everything to this company and partnership over the last six years…what was I going to do now? Why me?!?!
Pulling it together after this blow was definitely a challenge professionally and personally, and I learned some valuable lessons about getting through the “why me” moments in life.
1. Don’t get caught up in your story.
When bad things happen, it’s very easy to get caught up in the drama. We can get a lot of things from repeating our story to others such as sympathy, support, and encouragement. But wallowing in that story keeps you living in the past and not focused on being present to what’s in front of you right now.
Initially, I would go into all of the gory details of the “break up” when people asked me why I wasn’t in the business anymore, but pretty soon I grew tired of living in and repeating that story. Although people still asked me what happened, my response was just that I had irreconcilable differences with my partners. No bells, no whistles…simply, I’ve moved on. This kept me out of my story.
2. Don’t consume yourself in placing blame.
It’s easy to focus on placing blame on yourself and/or others when difficulties arise. What could I have done differently? Why did they do this to me? Why didn’t I try harder?
Focusing on all these “what ifs” won’t change the situation or ease your pain and sorrow. Focus your energy on what you can do right here, right now, to move forward.
3. Accept where you are.
As hard as it may be, you have to accept what happened. You can try not to, but it will only bring you more pain. Accepting your present circumstance is the first step to moving forward.
We have a natural tendency to judge and analyze the things that occur in our lives and label them as right or wrong, good or bad. Once we decide something is wrong or bad, we often spend a lot of time and energy complaining about it, feeling sorry for ourselves, pondering on how it could have gone differently, and/or trying to ‘fix’ it.
Shifting from that place of judgment and ‘fixing’ to a state of acceptance frees up that energy to explore new possibilities available from our current reality.
That doesn’t mean you have to like your current situation, but you do need to accept that you are where you are. It will clear your mind to take action to move to a better place.
4. Find the lesson.
This can be really hard because most potholes appear to be nothing but trouble when you hit them. But over time, you’ll likely realize that the pothole was actually there to teach or show you something.
Perhaps a job loss is setting you up to pursue something you’ll enjoy more. Maybe ending your relationship with your significant other frees you to meet the true love of your life. It may not be apparent immediately, but there is a lesson to be learned and an opportunity to grow.
For me, the end of my partnership freed me to advise other small business owners. During my time in the partnership, I learned how to run a small business and picked up several skills directly from my partners. I’m grateful because all of this prepared me to do what I do now which is extremely gratifying.
5. Focus on your vision.
Instead of holding a pity party, take the time to think about what you really want. Developing a vision of what you do want in your life (instead of focusing on your current situation and what you don’t want) is very powerful.
If you pile all of your energy into thinking about what happened and how it could have gone differently, you’ll stay stuck. Create a new vision for yourself so you can move forward. Focus on the positive things you want to see in your life and set the intention to pursue them.
This may require some rework of your previous plans, but that’s okay. Change can be good and may lead to things better than you could have imagined.
Life can definitely blindside you at times. Those unexpected circumstances or events can make or break you depending on how you recover. You may not have had control over what happened, but you do have a choice in how you respond.
Accept your current reality, but don’t let it define you. Keep your eyes open for the lessons to be learned and create a clear vision of what you want moving forward. Set your intention on your vision and allow it to unfold.