They say that the top five stressors in life are:
- Death of a loved one
- Major illness or injury
- Job loss
Thanks to this freakin’ pandemic, along with life in general, many of us are experiencing several of these stressors at once. It can be devastating. It’s a fragile time, and an all-time low. Under the circumstances, you can’t be blamed for feeling like a starfish that has been washed up onto dry land.
If the hits just keep on coming for you, it’s important for you to understand that you’re quite likely in a state of mourning. You are grieving the life you once had that has been ripped out of your hands. It’s perfectly natural to be upset, depressed, overwhelmed, angry, and afraid, by turns, or all at once.
Be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself as though you’ve just come out of major surgery. Give yourself time to heal and breathe. Let yourself feel all the different emotions. There’s no shame in that. It will take time to regain your bearings.
But once your feet are back up under you and you have a renewed sense of the compass points of your life, dare I say it? You have a unique opportunity. Yeah, I know. Hard to believe. But hear me out.
Your life has been stripped down in such a way that you are practically reborn, and yet you’re no baby. You are a capable, imaginative, creative creature who has just been stripped of its shell and perhaps everything that you’ve held dear up to this point. You are naked and vulnerable in the world, but you still have your brain and your character and your life experience. No one can take that away from you.
That vulnerable state also means you have more options than you ever have had in your life. And options equal opportunity! Even though you might be feeling like you’re at the bottom of a blast crater, you can now rebuild your life any way you want. You are at the foundation. You can build something amazing out of that crater. The land has already been cleared for you.
Believe me, I speak from experience. In 2014, I had hit rock bottom. Someone I loved more than life itself died quite unexpectedly. I also had just gotten my third college degree and was realizing that, like the other two, it was completely worthless in terms of starting me on a career path. I had a job that I knew would not be able to sustain me financially moving forward, and I had been kicked out of my apartment and had no idea where to go. The few days I experienced homelessness was enough to make me understand how I didn’t want my life to be. I had nothing left but the ringing in my ears after the explosion that was my life.
But that’s when I had an epiphany. (Don’t you just love a good epiphany?)
If ever I was to have the life I wanted, I needed to start now. Rather than scrambling through life, desperately clutching at whatever handholds came my way to get me out of this pit, I needed to reverse engineer everything, and I mean everything, about the way I chose to live.
I needed to think deeply about what it is that I truly wanted out of life, and then position myself to achieve those goals. I thought about where I wanted to live. (A liberal place, definitely not Florida). I thought about what I wanted to do. (Be in a stable, healthy relationship and build a solid home base from which to travel. I thought about what that would look like in detail.)
Your goals might be very different from mine, but one of my major realizations was that my job should not be my life. My job should be what allows me to live my life. I didn’t want a job that made me so miserable that that feeling bled into my off hours. If I was miserable, how would I be attractive to a healthy and positive life partner? I wanted a job that sustained me financially, but I also wanted one that I didn’t have to bring home with me. I wanted time to explore and have adventures and read books and focus on the people I love. I wanted time to write. I wanted to be able to turn off my phone whenever desired, without consequences.
I needed to do several things. First of all, I had to stop settling for the crap jobs that continued to put me in the waiting room of life. Waiting for change and not being the change was getting me nowhere.
I also needed to break free of toxic people. If I wanted to have a good life, I needed to be surrounded by good people, and those people would never present themselves if they had to swim through a sea of poisonous drama to get to me. I needed to put myself in places where I was most likely to meet the kind of good people I want in my life. That process was an emotional spring cleaning of sorts, and it wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.
But most of all, I had to take chances. I needed to have a clear vision of what I wanted, and I needed to say no to negative things and break old destructive habits, and say yes to opportunities. I needed to move. And now was my chance, because I basically had nothing and no one. While traveling through life without baggage can be scary, it can also be liberating.
If you’re at ground zero, down there amongst the smoke and rubble, there’s nowhere to go but up. This may seem counterintuitive, but I’m telling you to stay in that crater for a bit. Take some time to carefully plot out your course so that when you reach the rim of that crater, what you’re looking out at is exactly what you want to see.
I’m not saying that my path from 2014 was easy, but it was carefully plotted out. I now live in liberal Seattle, have a job I love that I don’t have to think about after the shift is over, I’m happily married, and life is good. For the first time in my life I feel as though I’m exactly where I need to be, and it took total effing devastation to get me there.
I never thought I’d say this, but three cheers for devastation, and a hearty thank you.
It can be done. Don’t just let life happen to you. Make it happen. There will be better days. But take some time to figure out what a better day would look like for you, and only then go there, step by step.
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2 thoughts on “Reverse Engineering Your Life”
I think this is exactly what most people need to hear, especially me. I met you when you were beginning your journey from your past to your future. I am so proud that I followed you vicariously and learned from your trials, errors, disappointments and finally turning all your positives to winning situations. And the last couple of years success, freedom and someone to share your your life. I even cried at your wedding though I was thousands of miles away.
My life was quite different. and I was quite content for most of it, but it fell apart about 10 years ago. I was crushed to my core. I lost my faith, my self respect, and my will to live, I was and still am Dead Woman Walking. I then lost my Mother who was 97 1/2. I could not even mourn her loss, so enraptured in my own darkness.
Four years after her passing I am beginning to forgive myself for not giving her 100% of my attention when she needed it so much. I am beginning to breath and function normally. I am still holding on to the reality of life, and have all the children, grandchildren, and mostly time with great grandchildren to keep me grounded. And yes, I can feel the RISE coming back, ever so slowly. There is a very dim light ahead. When ever I feel like sinking back to the darkness, I allow myself a day or two of self-pity, then claw out of it.
The main problem? The ticking of that damn clock. Approaching 79, but in good health, that final journey is not far.
I can tell you this Dear Friend… I will not go gentle into that Good Night.
That is one of the things I admire most about you, dear friend. Here’s hoping you continue to rise, now, and in the next journey. I love you.