“Sometimes, life will kick you around, but sooner or later, you realize you’re not just a survivor. You’re a warrior, and you’re stronger than anything life throws your way.” ~Brooke Davis
No matter how positive we are, how healthily we live, or how much kindness, generosity, or fairness we practice, shit happens. To all of us. And suddenly, we find ourselves juggling more balls than it seems humanly possible to juggle.
I’ve had my share of this:
When my father died, suddenly, when I was in my twenties. When I was lost in a bottomless depression for two years, in my thirties. When I had to undergo neurosurgery to remove a brain tumor, in my forties.
It seems that I got one ‘biggie’ like that in every decade of my adult life!
They knocked the wind out of me, plunged me into unspeakable darkness and despair, and brought me face to face with my worst fears.
I know what not knowing how to go on feels like.
Yet somehow, I went on and came through.
I used to see myself as a survivor—able to bear great pain and live through the suffering until things got better. That’s a quality and a strength, for sure. It’s an acceptance of what’s happening to you. An inner, maybe quiet, determination to still want to live, despite it all. That’s one way of not giving up and making it through.
But more recently, I’ve been inspired to cultivate another quality I’ve discovered in myself, in addition to that: my fighting spirit.
It was a revelation to me that, instead of bearing what life throws at me, I can consciously choose not to let it beat me. That I can be a warrior, as well as a survivor!
Fighting is a way of standing up to your inner voice of discouragement and resignation: a decision to show up and do what you can even when it’s tough and you want to give up.
And I’m finding that…
My fighting spirit is a great resource to have in my life toolbox.
I can call upon it when I need it. It adds to my resilience and self-reliance when life gets tough. And I also find that it comes in handy when I want to make changes for the better in my life, but struggle with the unforeseen complexities of, or resistance to what I want to do.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Fight is not always called for when life gets tough.
Sometimes we need to let ourselves be sad, down, or angry before we can find an appropriate response to what happened to us.
When we’ve pushed ourselves too hard, we might need to give ourselves the space to rest or even be ill for a while, before finding our way to heal.
Sometimes all we can do is indeed hang in there and survive as best we can.
And sometimes we need to let go of the fight, allowing things to happen as they will and going with the flow.
But fighting is called for when something important is at stake:
When you need to speak up for yourself (or someone or something that really matters to you). When you want to save a significant relationship that you’re on the verge of losing. When you’re facing a critical illness. Or when you need to stand up to the voices inside you that make you want to shrink away and disappear when it’s important to stay and be seen or heard.
Recently, I’ve fought more than ever before—and consciously so:
I’ve fought for living the creative and passionate life I am called to live. For my professional practice to continue to evolve. For my writing to find a place in the world. For my mother, who got diagnosed with Motoneuron Disease in her eighties, to have a dignified last phase of her life. For keeping my gallbladder when I developed a gallstone. The examples are many.
So, if you’d like some inspiration to discover and cultivate your own fighting spirit, I offer you…
6 Ways to Find the Fight in Yourself
These strategies help me when I don’t want to give in to the temptation to throw in the towel too soon. When I need to keep going even though it’s tough. When I need to stand up for what really matters to me. I hope you’ll find them helpful too!
1. You can do this!
Make “You can do this!” your mantra, repeating it to yourself, even aloud, when you feel discouraged. Strengthen yourself in every way possible—by exercising, meditating, or arming yourself with knowledge and support—to help you believe you really can handle whatever is coming.
I remember the time when it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to avoid brain surgery. This is a radical operation, and I was terrified of its risks and what it might do to me. The fact that the surgeons were going to cut into my brain—the center of my consciousness, my thoughts and my reasoning, my story and my memories—made my fears a thousand times worse!
Yet my fighting spirit kicked in: I got physically fit and strong. I learned what I could about my tumor and my surgery. I did the inner, psychological work to oust the demons that had perhaps contributed to bring the tumor on. And I got alternative health support from hypnotherapy, homeopathy, Ayurveda, and even angelic healing!
As I responded to my challenge in this way, I discovered a voice within me that spoke “I can do this!” into the storm of my fears, growing increasingly loud, strong, and determined.
2. Don’t let it beat you.
When adversity strikes, we are faced with a stark choice: We can either let it beat us or not.
My mother always says to herself, when facing a difficulty, “Who’s the boss here—me or this challenge?” She’s experienced hiding under her desk as a schoolgirl when the bombs fell during the war. She suffered frostbite on her feet in the winter because she didn’t own sturdy shoes. She lived through leaving her homeland to start a new life in a foreign country. Yet none of this destroyed her.
Perhaps it is true that hardship builds character. If you never have it tough and you never need to fight, you never learn how. You never build that fighting muscle.
We all have to face fear, pain, and harshness in life. But we can make a conscious choice to respond in ways that affirm our spirit. We can choose not to be discouraged, not to give in, not to despair—at least not for too long. We can call upon our inner strength, fight back, and rebuild ourselves.
My mother found her way back to her happy nature after the heaviest blows—the early death of her husband and facing Motoneuron Disease in her eighties. She knows that adversity can only really beat her if she lets it. And I watch in awe, as, time after time, she makes a conscious inner decision that she won’t. ‘Cause she’s the boss.
3. Why do we fall?
This is from the film Batman Begins. It’s how Batman’s father consoles his son when he’s had a setback. ”Why do we fall?” he asks him. When the boy doesn’t have an answer, the father says: “So we can learn how to stand up again.”
Whether you’re a Batman fan or not, remind yourself of this when you’re down and feel like giving up. Then find your fight and stand up again. For if you stand up just one more time than you’ve fallen, you’ve made it through. (That’s a Chinese proverb!)
4. Keep trying—intelligently.
They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Equally, you might not resolve a complex and challenging situation in one day. It may take several attempts to find your way through. Even if one attempt fails, it’s important to keep trying, but keep trying intelligently.
Ask yourself what you can learn from your previous attempt. What worked, what didn’t, and what you need to do differently this time. Then try again, using those insights. The story goes that Thomas Edison tried and rejected ten thousand combinations of material before he came up with a workable light bulb. Know that your ‘failed’ attempts are the stepping stones that will ultimately lead you to where you want to be.
5. Keep showing up.
I have a friend who has had a most debilitating, not clearly diagnosed illness for years. Yet she makes a point, always, to show up, whenever possible, in whatever way she can: to work, to choir practice, to family activities…
She dresses up and puts her make up on. And when she’s too weak to be there in the real world, she’s there online, writing and sharing her beautiful reflections about life. If that’s not fighting spirit, and truly inspiring, I don’t know what is.
So if you’re struggling, too, ask yourself: In what ways, however small, can you keep showing up?
6. Insist and persist.
This was one of my methods for getting stuff done when I worked in the challenging and fast-paced world of management consulting. I’d be friendly, charming, great to work with—but I wouldn’t go away until the work that needed doing was done and people had made the contribution that was necessary. My colleagues used to joke that I could be like a dog with a bone.
Insisting and persisting serves me well when life gets challenging for myself, too: I use it to understand what’s going on, find the help I need, and try different ways of responding to what’s happening. And I won’t stop until I am through.
Perhaps that’s one kind of stubbornness worth cultivating!
My fighting spirit is a useful string to my bow of life skills, and I shall be forever grateful for the experiences that helped me discover and hone it.
Over to you now…
When life piles on the challenges, and you’re pushed to the edge, where and how do you find your fighting spirit? How do you go on?