I was thirteen years old when my Dad was diagnosed with Cancer. For some reason, I was in the Doctor’s green tile examination room with him.
I didn’t really understand what was being said, but the air was heavy. Like gravity suddenly got angry.
I remember the antiseptic smell. And the large, back-lit X-ray screens. I’d seen them on M.A.S.H. Lots of big words like malignancy, polyps, chemotherapeutic interventions, radiation, etc. I knew it was bad news but the Doctor never said the word “cancer”.
Dad was quiet on the ride home in his faded, red 1975 Ford Pinto, working the gears and the clutch in unison. I recall trying to comfort him. Me, a skinny, 13-year-old, pimply-faced kid trying to comfort a 58 year-old man who just received a death sentence. He had simply waited too long to seek a diagnosis. It was awful.
What was next? Surgery? Chemo? Would he die? Surely he wouldn’t die, right? The logic of a 13-year-old boy wanting to know how the story would end, before it had even begun.
We will all face adversity in our lives at one time or another. Something I’ve learned is that you can’t rush the outcome or force a solution. We must take the long walk. And that’s where the story begins.
Sometimes a loss is the best thing that can happen. It teaches you what you should have done next time.
Some time ago there was an American missionary living in a very tiny village. The young woman was a teacher who labored alongside the native people. One night, a boy from the missionary’s class brought her a crudely wrapped gift. The teacher was surprised as this little boy was very poor.
What could he possibly give her?
The teacher unwrapped the present and inside found an exquisite seashell. Knowing the only place to find the shell was many rugged miles away, she expressed enthusiastic appreciation.
“My goodness,” she told him “You’ve traveled so far to bring me such a wonderful present.”
At first, the boy appeared surprised by her reaction, but his eyes quickly brightened and a wide smile crept across his small face; “Oh, teacher,” he explained, “The long walk is part of the gift.”
Not All Roads are Paved
I heard this story 20 years ago. It’s staying power has much to do with my own way of seeing life and adversity; that the journey ─ all of it ─ is part of the gift of life.
That might seem simple, but it’s true. As Adam Levine croons, “It’s not always rainbows and butterflies.”
Your life is shaped by the road you’ve traveled. And not all of those roads are paved. The simple truth is that you are a collection of your life’s experiences; both good and bad. Sometimes the things that inspire us are not our favorite memories.
Ad·ver·si·ties: noun, plural
adverse or unfavorable fortune or fate; a condition marked by misfortune, calamity, or distress
an adverse or unfortunate event or circumstance
Five Ways to Overcome Adversity in Your Life
There’s a funny quote I often see on greeting cards and bumper stickers: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” It has been attributed to Winston Churchill.
It’s a good bumper sticker, but likely a little short on details if you’re really going through hell.
So what are some good ways to overcome strong adversity in your life? Well, I’ve given this some thought and here are five ways to overcome adversity ─ or get out of hell:
1. Maintain Perspective:
Years ago, I went through a very challenging time. My business was failing, I was sued by a former employer for $5,000,000 and a US Attorney named Kermit had my personal cell phone number on speed dial.
I found myself in a deposition with four attorneys from the US Attorney’s office and the Department of Treasury. “Mr Greene, on behalf of the citizens of United States we’d like to thank you for your cooperation today.” I was sweating like Matt Lauer at at #metoo rally.
I had done nothing wrong, but others had clearly bent the rules. I had the goods on them, but these weren’t nice people. You could say this was a rough patch… and you’d be right.
The mental game-theory became an obsession. I found it nearly impossible to clear my head. I also learned that if you think about something long enough, your brain will come up with some batshit crazy scenarios. I wrote about this in an earlier story: A Cognitive Battle ─ How to Shut Uncle Rico Up for Good.
Fortunately, my wife was extremely supportive, even when I had to hire a criminal attorney at $700 per hour. One of the things she did was keep me grounded during this period so that we could maintain perspective.
2. Seek Wise Counsel:
Sometimes wise counsel costs $700 an hour. Other times wise counsel is free.
But regardless of the cost, when you’re in the front row of the Fecal Festival everybody has an opinion. Not all of those opinions are wise.
Seeking advice not only gives us another set of eyes and ears in times of trouble but it gives us time to think. It can help you manage the trap of “worst-first thinking.”
In the words of Andy Stanley,
Most of the time we get into trouble not because we failed to take advice, but because we took our own advice.
3. No Sudden Moves:
When your life is turning into a dog’s breakfast, you become singularly fixated on trying to find a solution. As if the solution is suddenly going to pop in your head if you ruminate on the problem long enough.
In full disclosure, nobody ever described me as a patient man. In true form, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in times of trouble is trying to “force the solution.”
This is probably a pretty common mistake in men. After all, we are “fixers” at heart and I desperately wanted to fix the problem.
After 20 hours a day of ruminating and too little sleep, I found myself making some really dumb moves. Fortunately, none of these were dumb enough to be permanent.
But, take my advice, when the music starts at the Poo Party, don’t make any sudden moves.
4. Be Grateful:
Yeah, that’s some shitty advice, right?
It’s impossible to be grateful when your life looks like two monkeys trying to hump a football. But, hey, things could get worse if you aren’t grateful and respectful of the good things in life.
It’s important not to take your relationships for granted. This applies to your partner, your kids, your boss, your job, your clients, your parents….. you get the point.
These are the good things in life. And if you screw up, you’ll have a whole new four-alarm, Rampart dumpster fire on your hands, my friend.
5. Feed Your Body and Soul:
In times of crisis, it gets very hard to take care of yourself. It’s easy to get down on everything, including your health and faith life.
But it’s critically important to recognize that your mind and body need care. I found that when my mind gets carried away with all sorts of cray-cray scenarios, strenuous exercise is a great antidote.
Yoga might be weird, but it’s damn hard to think of anything else when you’re holding a pigeon pose for 90 seconds and sweating like a fat kid in a dodge ball game.
As you might expect, all’s well that ends well.
My situation resolved itself in a matter of months, although it still seems like it took years.
So take my advice on working through adversity: maintain perspective, seek wise counsel, don’t make any sudden moves, be grateful and feed your body and soul.
Just remember the story of the missionary and the young boy: “The long walk is part of the gift.”
Previously Published on tomgreene.com