Patrick Sallee shares lessons learned from experience getting through challenging times.
I wouldn’t define myself as an overly optimistic person. That might actually be a generous statement. I would say I’m a realist or maybe even a cynic; my friends and family may tell you I’m a pessimist. As I have gotten older though and been through more challenging times, I started to see a real optimism in the face of pain. Not that difficulties and heartbreak don’t get me down, but I began to see how each negative can be an opportunity to create something positive. I finally saw how each experience, each challenge strengthened me to where I knew the next one couldn’t beat me.
Recently, I’ve been in the fortunate position to talk with friends who are facing very challenging personal circumstances, and I’m flattered they think I can be helpful. If people feel they can count on you, trust you and value your thoughts, it is a huge compliment. Even when approached, “I know you have been through some real heavy shit, thought you could help”…I still consider myself fortunate to be counted on. Over the course of these conversations and thinking more about my own experiences I believe there are 3 things that help you get through pain and find the optimism as you go.
- Go easy on yourself
We set really high expectations for ourselves. Particularly in times of heartbreak and pain, we can’t meet these expectations, at least not every day. You should be the first person to give yourself a pass. Let the brief lapse in judgment slide, and try again tomorrow. Often we allow the mistakes we make while dealing with pain to bury us deeper in depression and negativity. This leads to nothing but more trouble and a deeper hole to dig out of.
Like 99% of divorces, mine wasn’t pleasant. There was a lot going on and I didn’t handle much of it well. I expected perfection from myself though and would become very discouraged if I slipped up and sent a text message I would later regret or made a fool of myself out partying too hard. I used to beat myself up over those decisions until I finally realized that response was, in itself, a choice…and I could continue to make it worse, or decide to stop and do better next time.
- Quick wins
Take what you can get. Seriously. You have a good afternoon, make a few good choices in a row or don’t send that nasty text you drafted…make note. Pat yourself on the back. The good things build momentum and lead to more good choices and more positive days.
Research has shown that will power is a muscle, we only have so much of it any given day. But the good news is we can strengthen that muscle. It takes lots of work but you can build up will power, day after day or hour after hour. Making a few positive choices, and recognizing this within yourself, improves your strength to continue on that path. I have found the more I’ve had to deal with, the more confident I am the next thing will be manageable, even when I’m in the middle of it.
Not long after my divorce was final I gave up alcohol. It took quite a while to get used to not drinking and in the early days I found the idea of finding a bar and a stool for the afternoon a reoccurring thought. It drove me nuts that this wouldn’t go away, that this wasn’t simple. Turning down a glass of wine at the first work function I attended after quitting was hard. I prayed they wouldn’t ask again. As days went by and I continued to choose being sober, it became easier. Last month I was in New Orleans for work and out with friends on Bourbon Street, choosing an ice tea or water. That would never have happened three years ago, but the momentum built to a level where it almost makes the decision for me.
- Separate yourself
Whatever you are going through…it doesn’t define you or determine your future. Does it suck? Yes. Does it feel like it will be the end of you? Absolutely. Will it? Most likely not.
Who you are as a person isn’t defined by the pain you are experiencing. Divorce, death of loved one, job loss…while all of it can feel monumental to overcome, it doesn’t control the rest of your life. After months of struggling with the aftermath of my divorce and a few poor choices I made, I faced a decision point. What anyone else thought of me, how they treated me or what they understood about my circumstances, meant little as it related to what sort of life was I going to lead, what type of father would I be, how successful could I be. All of those outcomes were still to be decided and I had the ability to control them.
This realization hit me square in the face. I finally understood that we all face choices and those choices have consequences…but the outcome of someone else’s choice doesn’t define me. People hurt us, employers pass us over, spouses cheat, people cause pain. None of those things are a reflection of who we are. All we can do is make the choices that are in front of us and stand for what we believe in.
The quicker you separate how you view yourself from the pain you are experiencing, the quicker you begin to heal. As healing occurs you begin to turn your experience into something that actually makes you stronger to build something new and special.