No one is free from the trials and tribulations of living on planet Earth. The unfortunate truth is that a large percentage of the planet’s more than 7 billion inhabitants are, at this moment, hungry and suffering.
So, when I’m faced with unexpected challenges — those disappointments that seem to sneak up and blindside me — I feel a push and pull in my inner psyche. On one side, I feel victimized. On the other, I feel guilty for having feelings of “Why me?” or “When is enough, enough?”
Yet in these disappointments lies great learning and tremendous opportunities for personal and spiritual growth.
When I recently experienced a disappointing setback, I turned to my wife and said, “I feel as though I’m standing on shifting sands,” never quite secure in my place in life, not grounded or on solid footing. But, as is the case with so much of our perceptive reality, these types of feelings are a product of our thoughts, choices, and responses to the uncertainty of living.
When I put aside my feelings of victimhood, I can step onto a solid foundation, one derived from experience. These four simple truths help me move forward:
Truth #1: When one door shuts, another opens.
Back in the mid-’80s, I experienced a tsunami of rejection while plodding my way around New York City as I attempted to land roles in television commercials, voice-overs, and plays. In the field of entertainment, in romance, and in the workplace, not being accepted is hard to take. But rejection, while certainly chiseling on the spirit, is simply part of life’s journey.
Failed marriages, estranged familial relationships, and shifting employment may have temporarily knocked me out of the game. Yet, I rose from the ashes and put one foot in front of the other to walk through the next open door.
At a recent celebration—my son’s graduation from USC, where he earned a Masters of Architecture—Will Ferrell was the commencement speaker. In his humorous speech, Will spoke of his own journey, and how he just kept throwing darts against the board. His advice? Keep throwing those darts.
Truth #2: Change is inevitable.
Just when you think it’s safe, life has a way of sneaking up and pulling the rug out from underneath you. We all have this experience. Think for a moment about the many changes you’ve seen and experienced over the last ten years. Could you have anticipated much of it?
Living in our accelerated digital world of consumer-based technology, having the newest iPhone, largest flat-screen television, or fastest laptop dominate our humanness, pulling us farther and farther away from human interaction. My son’s generation doesn’t know a world without access to the internet, without social media, without complete dysfunction in our political system, and without the polarity of social, economic, racial, and religious structures.
Accepting these changes doesn’t lead to apathy or complacency. When we accept change, we are simply acknowledging the reality of our evolving world and our ability to adapt, to become flexible, and to find new solutions for living true to our essence.
Change is inevitable. We can either fight a losing battle, thrash against change, and be disappointed—or change our strategies.
Truth #3: We can choose to respond, not react.
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
This proverbial phrase speaks to the power of the heart-mind connection and how we act and behave in our daily lives. Reacting reduces us to the animal instinct of fight or flight, eliminating our ability to effectively use our hearts and minds to pause, center, and respond to any given situation, particularly those that are heated, unexpected, or emotionally-charged.
It’s easy to turn negative when circumstances weigh against you. Take, for example, any number of unexpected situations that happy frequently: an angry driver cutting you off, a coworker misinterpreting a statement or communication, a misunderstanding with a loved one, or dealing with a customer service representative to resolve a billing issue. These and so many other events can pull you out of your Zen and into a reactive unconsciousness.
Responding to these situations, instead, involves purposeful and intentional behavior. Sure, counting to ten may not be a solve-all, but pausing before reacting in emotional jags can mean the difference between resolving difficulties or exacerbating them.
When I feel my emotions racing, my heart beating faster, and my breathing becoming shallow, I know I’m on shaky ground. One or two intentional, deep breaths significantly reduces my internal chaos just enough to give me the opportunity to choose a constructive path.
Another fact that’s immediately improved my life experience is knowing that I don’t have to be “right” in every case. When I feel myself engaging in a win-lose discussion or event, I quietly ask myself, “Is this critically important?” If it’s not, why am I choosing to go into battle? Be selective in choosing your battles, particularly with loved ones.
Truth #4: Some prayers are better left unanswered.
Countless times in my life, I’ve wanted something, someone, or an outcome so deeply that I’ve bargained with the divine:
“If you give me this job, person, role, or speaking engagement, I will…”
While some of these bargains have led to success, more often than not, my absolute must-haves didn’t happen. The initial disappointment stung. However, I found that not receiving what I had so desperately wanted actually led me in a different direction, a direction that was both unexpected and better aligned to my interests.
In our losses, we gain opportunities to learn, grow, and transform ourselves. The key, as I have learned, is to have love, compassion, and forgiveness for myself and others. After all, we are human beings having a spiritual experience.
Besides, perfection is highly overrated.