I have never met a person who said that they could not wait to be rejected by their high school crush or that they always wanted to be in a bad business partnership, that they revelled in the judgement of their circle of friends or family – or that being divorced at the age of 24 was a lifelong dream.
Sometimes bad things happen to good people and life does not exactly turn out as rosy as we planned. Disappointment can be shattering, and bouncing back from a bleeding heart or getting over a bone-chilling shock is not easy. It takes courage, and realising that early on together with a healthy dose of perspective can go a long way in getting you back on track, and ready to reach for the stars again.
Some life lessons are worth sharing and for me, I could easily distinguish between the important lessons and the everyday aha moments in my life. They were quite clear. The important life lessons made the world’s difference in moving on and overcoming – and I can pinpoint the exact moment I learned them.
The following lessons carried me through many hard times when life left me wobbly at the knees. These are my own top 5 survival strategies for when life sucks big time!
Strategy No 1: Find your own truth
I used to share an office with someone I intensely admired, trusted and eagerly learned from on a regular basis. Then after a year or two, and a lot of history, ups and downs and even friendship, the foundations of the business relationship started to crack and crumble. Without much warning, I had to whether attacks on everything, from my business acumen to my personal potential, my ways of doing, but mostly I heard about my many weaknesses. My so-called shortcomings were illustriously being pointed out, backed up by examples I did not even know existed. It got pretty ugly. I was so shocked about the turn of events that I did not immediately realise what was going on. It was difficult, hurtful and a shock to my oblivious system.
I remember the day that I was on the receiving end of a tongue-lashing that almost drove me to tears with its hellish fierceness. There I was, listening to the words being used to describe who I am and how I think, and just not being able to identify with it. After listening quietly to most of it, I responded with “this might be your view and perceived facts of who I am, but it is not mine. I will find my own truth”.
In that moment I knew that I was open enough to learn from others if they were holding the truth, but that I was strong enough to dismiss senseless accusations coming from a different place. Remember that in most situations you will never have the full picture. People can act out of their own insecurity, fear, greed or jealously and then create situations to prove a point, or deliberately set you up for failure so that things can work out the way they want them to. Your only fault might even be that you intensely remind them of an ex’s new romantic interest!
That one sentence I uttered had my raving opponent completely at a loss for words. I knew it struck home. Find your own truth and do not be held hostage by the views of people who are displaying behaviour or who are lobbying for outcomes that have very little to do with you.
Strategy No 2: Trust people… also when they show you who they are
I was engaged to my high school sweetheart at a young age. Back in the days, it was quite fashionable to marry early. According to many friends and family, I was already slow to get to church considering that I did not marry directly out of high school, but was finishing up a three-year degree first. It was after a weekend together at my fiance’s parents in a different town, whereupon returning from the visit I was dropped off promptly back at varsity. He, on the other hand, rushed away hurriedly, and I knew something was up. He was quite a Don Juan and popular with the ladies – and being in a relationship for a couple of years, we have had some ups and downs on the topic. It was a month before the wedding, the invites were out, the venue booked and everything paid for. Long story short, I ended up outside his bachelor’s flat at 2 am in the morning, unable to trace him for several hours.
That night, in the dim light of a lonely streetlamp I knew with crystal clear clarity who I was marrying. The refrain in my head would not stop, “if you experience similar nights in the future, all alone, head in your hands, do not be surprised… you have been shown. I knew who he was. I have been shown.
We can talk about recognising a womaniser and at what point exactly I should have known, but learn to listen to people when they show you who they are. A leopard does not change its spots. A “friendly” snake still remains a snake. Take note especially if they repeatedly do things that prove a point. The weak ones are normally good with words, promises and lies. If you fail to heed the warning, be prepared to learn the lesson the hard way.
Strategy 3: Your choices are yours to make
I have made some considerable mistakes in my lifetime. Nothing that can get me into jail thankfully, but I had my fair share of false starts and broken hearts, and many a situation had me contemplating some uneasy, uncomfortable and sometimes downright daunting decisions. It takes courage. Loads of raw, “holy sh*t what now!” type of courage.
Truth is when I got into these situations my intentions were pure. My actions above board, my dedication unwavering throughout, I was patient. But I did not get the same back. I was being disrespected and hallowed out and when you have played your part, done what you could and the situation is not moving you forward, the people around you are not lifting you up, it is time to find your next. You owe it to yourself and the ones closest to you to be happy and fulfilled. It is your choice and your life and you are the most important person to account to.
I stayed in unhappy places for far too long, because I was more concerned about other people. What would they say, how will others be impacted, how would I make it, and the worst of them all, I don’t need their support, I can cope without help, love or recognition…
New beginnings bring with it new solutions, give yourself that. You owe it to yourself to make the choice for a better tomorrow.
Strategy 4: Judgement has an address
One of the things I thought about often as I made those tough decisions was contemplating what people would say. I felt like a failure. I could imagine a million stories to doubt myself, feeling insecure and intimidated by opinion.
It was not until I realised that judgement had an address. It resided in people’s own belief systems and experiences, tied to their personalities and character. It was carefully cemented into outdated mental models (or ways of thinking).
No one in their right mind would expect you to endure and accept unfairness, abuse and pain indefinitely. So next time you are being held back by thoughts of doubt because of how you think others will judge you – do a mental exercise. Just imagine telling them your full story, every little gory, illustrious little detail – don’t skip the juicy bits, and then end it with: “…… and after all that do you think I should stay and do this some more?”
It is a mental exercise that helps gain perspective and help you view events as they really are. People may judge and jump to conclusions but they do not know the full story, they come from a different point of view, their own “judgemental addresses”.
Let them judge, they don’t know any better, then forgive them for being human and look out for yourself. Your choice is yours to make and you understand your reasons. Remember, making hard choices takes tremendous courage. Some people stay where they are because they never mustered enough courage to make a difficult choice. It’s a brave thing to do. Trust yourself and believe that things will eventually work out.
Strategy 5: Don’t let that which ruined your past steal your future
Most people can remember a time when they were treated badly. Anything from being lied to, cheated on, publically embarrassed or bullied, where trust was broken within seconds. Whether you caught a partner in the act of infidelity, shared a sensitive secret that was used against you or whether you were betrayed by those closest to you. Life happens, and we cannot control all of it. Focus on learning the lesson, (the first time if you can) but do not let the experience hold you back from the joys life has to give.
I remember a time when I was struggling to come to terms with the cold, devastating unfairness life was throwing my way. I was reeling with shock. Emotions kept washing over me day after day, and the visuals of what exactly went down somehow got stuck in my head. It played on repeat, in vivid excruciating colour, like a creepy never-ending movie, and I realised that the intensity of it all could really influence the way I view the world. That I would be within my full rights to think that way because I had the evidence after all, but I caught myself on the back foot, navigating new situations with cautious suspicion.
It was only when I started becoming aware of how the experience changed me that it dawned on me. What I endured at the time stole my time, my honest efforts and energy, it nullified the best years of my young adult life and here I was, allowing it on a daily basis to continue to steal from me. To take from me the joy of the future! You have a choice about how you allow events to impact you.
I know it sounds like a cliché, but that day it was so real for me. You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it, and you should hand it back to where it comes from.
I had a hard time forgiving myself for allowing what I did, for trusting when I should not have but that was all I was guilty of and that was no reason for carrying the burden of other people’s decisions for one second longer.
By refusing to allow the hurt of the past to destroy the joy of the future you create your own way forward.
It is time to tilt you head towards the sun and allow a cleared out space for new opportunities and adventures and for fresh, bright moments of joy. Be adventurous. Run towards it!