All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me . . . You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.—Walt Disney
My low point came after my divorce.
I felt like the world was ending, and I couldn’t get my engine started. And sometimes I didn’t even try.
I had failed, and I couldn’t change a thing (or so I thought). I kept thinking, “Is it really over?” I was sinking, and my air was running out.
The worst part of all was facing my kids and my former wife. You could see a numbness in their eyes. And it hurt. It really hurt.
I soon found myself with no job, no car, no money, and high debts. Luckily, someone bailed me out. My second mom got me an apartment next to hers. Thank you.
But I didn’t know how precarious her situation was. This blessing was soon taken away when she was hit with eviction notices on both apartments—and there were our things, scattered all over the ground. “Can it get any worse than this?”
Mom got another place, and I found a friend who let me sleep on his couch (whew!). But that didn’t last long either: After a week he threw me out, and it was the best thing he could’ve done.
He threw me out because he grew so disgusted with my negativity. You see, all my blaming, complaining, and walking around like a zombie wasn’t working very well.
And he kept saying ten words—ten words his father had taught him. Ten words that he believed in.
Ten words which would become my mantra: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
You Can’t Fix Your Life Before You Take Responsibility
When my friend kept beating those words into me, a light finally turned on. If I wanted a job, it was up to me. If I wanted to love and support my family, it was up to me. If I wanted to be happier and stronger, it was up to me. Everything about me was up to me.
My friend’s advice hit me like a ton of bricks. It shook me. I was responsible. I needed to do whatever it took. I needed to do the hard things. I needed to quit asking for bailouts. And I needed to start trusting my own abilities. Not only was it up to me, I needed to start believing in myself more.
Talk about a turning point.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find the strength fast enough to save my marriage. And that still hurts. But I wasn’t going to give up on life and my kids. They needed me. They needed a good father. They needed me to keep going, to try, to learn, to grow, and to get better. And they still loved their dad, even though he was flawed.
So what do you do when you’re down, way down, and you know everything is up to you?
I finally got off my butt, earned a little, and found a cheap room to rent. I started applying for every job I could and was lucky to find one fairly quickly. And best of all, I eventually found love and remarried. Now I’m loving life again.
I’ve learned that when you’re down it’s hard to see the path back up, and it’s easy to wallow in your own misery, as I did. But if you want to climb out (it doesn’t matter how far down you are), you must do a couple of things . . .
You Must Stop Playing the Blame Game
I wanted to blame my wife, or someone—anyone but me. And I kept trying, but it didn’t work. It didn’t do any good. I mean, blame doesn’t save you or give you peace. And it doesn’t give you strength to keep going. Rather, the opposite is true. It sucks you dry.
I knew that I was the one who had trouble getting a job, staying with it, and earning a minimal living. I knew that I was the one who would quit and try out a business idea that didn’t do squat. I knew that I was the one always asking for help and bailouts. I knew that I was the reason the debts were piling up, despite having a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology. And I knew I gave up too easily.
So what about you? Is blame still your best friend? Are you dishing it out all the time, or are you the blame magnet? Are you the one squeezing it so tight you leave marks in it, even though everything good inside you keeps trying to pry it loose?
You Must End the Constant Complaining
When I was in that bad place, after my divorce, I couldn’t stop complaining. And three times a day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, wasn’t enough. I’d complain all the time.
I don’t know about you, but when I think about something, I talk about it. And if I’m thinking and talking about every bad thing that’s happened, whether to me or anyone else, then I feel like crap. And it wears people down, including me.
So I’ve committed to stop complaining, and though I still slip up–I’ve told my wife I don’t want to complain anymore, and trust me, she calls me on it—I certainly complain a lot less. Complaining is human, so you don’t have to beat yourself up when it happens.
On the flip side, I have learned that every time I start saying out loud everything I’m grateful for, even the littlest things, I start feeling better. I start smiling again. And I’d rather feel the goodness of gratitude than the garbage of complaining. Maybe it is time to let gratitude take its proper place again.
Sometimes You Must Do the Hard Things
I’ve always been a dreamer, with a desire to contribute in a big way and to work for myself. The idea of working for someone else, or doing something I didn’t want to do, especially something that seemed small, always created a big knot in my stomach.
Something needed to change. I needed to pay my own way and support my family more (what was left of it). I could work a job until I got something better (and that took me 25 years). And my first good paying job did come through—a government job. It paid the bills, helped my family, and I got back on my feet.
But it wasn’t fulfilling, and I knew I had so much more to contribute. I couldn’t stand the office politics. I tried to embrace the good that was there, but it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t the fondest part of my life, but it got me where I am today. It got me a better life and a better life for my kids.
You know the best things in life don’t come easily. You might have to take a job you don’t like for a time. You might have to raise your kids alone for a time. You might have to be brutally honest about your weaknesses, and then do something about them. And you might have to date again, even if you’ve suffered heartbreak.
When the World Turns Again
My world has turned on its head. I’ve gotten better. I’ve married a super gal, someone who’s able to tolerate (and enjoy) the better me. I’m out of debt, and I’m working my dream. I’m going to help unite the world. And I’m bouncing off the walls about it.
When you know it really is up to you, and you get off your duff and get moving, that’s when things start turning around.
That’s when the sun starts coming out again, and you feel its warmth in your bones and in your soul. That’s when you start realizing you’re stronger—you’ve got strength you didn’t even know you had. And that’s when your laughter starts infecting everyone around you, with a great big smile of their own.