post written by: Marc Chernoff
40 Lessons for Finding Strength in Hard Times
Sometimes you have to die a little on the inside first in order to be reborn and rise again as a stronger, smarter version of yourself.
Nobody gets through life without losing someone they love, someone they need, or something they thought was meant to be. But it is these losses that make us stronger and eventually move us toward future opportunities for growth and happiness.
Over the past five years Angel and I have dealt with several hardships, including the sudden death of a sibling, the loss of a best friend to illness, betrayal from a business partner, and an unexpected (breadwinning) employment layoff. These experiences were brutal. Each of them, naturally, knocked us down and off course for a period of time. But when our time of mourning was over in each individual circumstance, we pressed forward, stronger, and with a greater understanding and respect for life.
Here are some lessons we’ve learned along the way:
- You are not what happened to you in the past. – No matter how chaotic the past has been, the future is a clean, fresh, wide open slate. You are not your past habits. You are not your past failures. You are not how others have at one time treated you. You are only who you think you are right now in this moment. You are only what you do right now in this moment.
- Focus on what you have, not on what you haven’t. – You are who you are and you have what you have, right now. And it can’t be that bad, because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to read this. The important thing is simply to find one POSITIVE thought that inspires and helps you move forward. Hold on to it strongly, and focus on it. You may feel like you don’t have much, or anything at all, but you have your mind to inspire you. And that’s really all you need to start moving forward again. Read The How of Happiness.
- Struggling with problems is a natural part of growing. – Part of living and growing up is experiencing unexpected troubles in life. People lose jobs, get sick, and sometimes die in car accidents. When you are younger, and things are going pretty well, this harsh reality can be hard to visualize. The smartest, and oftentimes hardest, thing we can do in these kinds of situations is to be tempered in our reactions. To want to scream obscenities, but to wiser and more disciplined than that. To remember that emotional rage only makes matters worse. And to remember that tragedies are rarely as bad as they seem, and even when they are, they give us an opportunity to grow stronger.
- It’s okay to fall apart for a little while. – You don’t always have to pretend to be strong, and there is no need to constantly prove that everything is going well. You shouldn’t be concerned with what other people are thinking either – cry if you need to – it’s healthy to shed your tears. The sooner you do, the sooner you will be able to smile again. And a smile doesn’t always mean a person is happy. Sometimes it simply means they are strong enough to face their problems.
- Life is fragile, sudden, and shorter than it often seems. – There may not be a tomorrow – not for everyone. Right now, someone on Earth is planning something for tomorrow without realizing they’re going to die today. This is sad but true. So spend your time wisely today and pause long enough to appreciate it. Every moment you get is a gift. Don’t waste time by dwelling on unhappy things. Spend it on things that move you in the direction you want to go.
- You will fail sometimes. – The faster you accept this, the faster you can get on with being brilliant. You’ll never be 100% sure it will work, but you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work. Doing something and getting it wrong is at least ten times more productive than doing nothing. So get out there and try! Either you succeed or you learn a vital lesson. Win – Win.
- You have the capacity to create your own happiness. – Feelings change, people change, and time keeps rolling. You can hold onto past mistakes or you can create your own happiness. A smile is a choice, not a miracle. Don’t make the mistake of waiting on someone or something to come along and make you happy. True happiness comes from within.
- Emotionally separate yourself from your problems. – You are far greater than your problems. You are a living, breathing human being who is infinitely more complex than all of your individual problems added up together. And that means you’re more powerful than them – you have the ability to change them, and to change the way you feel about them.
- Don’t make a problem bigger than it is. – You should never let one dark cloud cover the entire sky. The sun is always shining on some part of your life. Sometimes you just have to forget how you feel, remember what you deserve, and keep pushing forward.
- Everything that happens is a life lesson. – Everyone you meet, everything you encounter, etc. They’re all part of the learning experience we call ‘life.’ Never forget to acknowledge the lesson, especially when things don’t go your way. If you don’t get a job that you wanted or a relationship doesn’t work, it only means something better is out there waiting. And the lesson you just learned is the first step towards it.
- View every challenge as an educational assignment. – Ask yourself: “What is this situation meant to teach me?” Every situation in our lives has a lesson to teach us. Some of these lessons include: To become stronger. To communicate more clearly. To trust your instincts. To express your love. To forgive. To know when to let go. To try something new.
- Things change, but the sun always rises the next day. – The bad news: nothing is permanent. The good news: nothing is permanent.
- Giving up and moving on are two very different things. – There comes a point when you get tired of chasing everyone and trying to fix everything, but it’s not giving up, and it’s not the end. It’s a new beginning. It’s realizing, finally, that you don’t need certain people and things and the drama they bring.
- Distance yourself from negative people. – Every time you subtract negative from your life you make room for more positive. Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you. Let go of negative people, for they are the greatest destroyers of self confidence and self esteem. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you.
- Perfect relationships don’t exist. – There’s no such thing as a perfect, ideal relationship. It’s how two people deal with the imperfections of a relationship that make it ideal. Read The Road Less Traveled.
- You must love yourself too. – One of the most painful things in life is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too. When was the last time someone told you that they loved you just the way you are, and that what you think and how you feel matters? When was the last time someone told you that you did a good job, or took you someplace, simply because they know you feel happy when you’re there? When was the last time that ‘someone’ was YOU?
- Don’t let others make decisions for you. – Sometimes you just have to live not caring what they think of you, shake off the drama, and prove to YOURSELF that you’re better than they think you are.
- Resentment hurts you, not them. – Always forgive people and move on, even if they never ask for your forgiveness. Don’t do it for them – do it for you. Grudges are a waste of happiness. Get that unnecessary stress out of your life right now.
- You’re not alone. Everyone has problems. – To lose sleep worrying about a friend. To have trouble picking yourself up after someone lets you down. To feel like less because someone didn’t love you enough to stay. To be afraid to try something new for fear you’ll fail. None of this means you’re dysfunctional or crazy. It just means you’re human, and that you need a little time to right yourself. You are not alone. No matter how embarrassed or pathetic you feel about your own situation, there are others out there experiencing the same emotions. When you hear yourself say, “I am all alone,” it is your mind trying to sell you a lie.
- You still have a lot to be thankful for. – Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of brave people who are overcoming it. Sometimes you have to forget what’s gone, appreciate what still remains, and look forward to what’s coming next. Henry David Thoreau once said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” Even when times are tough, it’s always important to keep things in perspective. You didn’t go to sleep hungry last night. You didn’t go to sleep outside. You had a choice of what clothes to wear this morning. You hardly broke a sweat today. You didn’t spend a minute in fear. You have access to clean drinking water. You have access to medical care. You have access to the Internet. You can read. Some might say you are incredibly wealthy, so remember to be grateful for all the things you do have.
- Consciously nurture your inner hope. – A loss, a worry, an illness, a dream crushed – no matter how deep your hurt or how high your aspirations, do yourself a favor and pause at least once a day, place your hands over your heart and say aloud, “Hope lives here.”
- It’s better to be hurt by the truth, than comforted by a lie. – You must see things how they are instead of how you hoped, wished, or expected them to be. It’s always better to be slapped with the truth than kissed with a lie.
- It’s hard to tell exactly how close you are to success. – Connecting the dots going forward is nearly impossible, but when you look backward it always makes perfect sense. Success is often closer than it seems, and arrives suddenly, when you least expect it.
- Not getting what you want can be a blessing. – Not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of good luck, because it forces you reevaluate things, opening new doors to opportunities and information you would have otherwise overlooked.
- Laughter is the best medicine for stress. – Laugh at yourself often. Find the humor in whatever situation you’re in. Optimism is a happiness magnet. If you stay positive, good things and good people will be drawn to you.
- Mistakes are important to make. – We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve let people take advantage of us, and we’ve accepted way less than we deserve. But if you think about it, we’ve learned a lot from our bad choices, and even though there are some things we can never recover and people who will never be sorry, we now know better for next time. We now have more power to shape our future. Remember, failure is not falling down; failure is staying down when you have the choice to get back up. Get back up! Oftentimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.
- Worrying is literally a waste of energy. – Worry will not drain tomorrow of its troubles, it will drain you of your strength today. Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
- Even when it’s hard to move, take small steps forward. – Especially in trying times, it’s important to continuously push yourself forward. Because momentum is everything! As long as you keep the momentum positive – even if you’re moving at a snail’s pace – you’ll eventually get to the finish line. So celebrate every step you take today, no matter how small. Because every step will lead you farther away from where you were yesterday and closer to where you want to be tomorrow. Be it a better life or a dream we long to realize, we reach our destinations by taking many, many small steps in the same direction, one at a time.
- There will always be people who dislike you. – You can’t be everything to everyone. No matter what you do, there will always be someone who thinks differently. So concentrate on doing what you know in your heart is right. What others think and say about you isn’t all that important. What is important is how you feel about yourself.
- You are better off without some people you thought you needed. – The sad truth is, there are some people who will only be there for you as long as you have something they need. When you no longer serve a purpose to them, they will leave. The good news is, if you tough it out, you’ll eventually weed these people out of your life and be left with some great friends you can always count on.
- You are ONLY competing against yourself. – When you catch yourself comparing yourself to a colleague, neighbor, friend, or someone famous, stop! Realize that you are different, with different strengths – strengths these other people don’t possess. Take a moment to reflect on all the awesome abilities you have and to be grateful for all the good things in your life.
- You can’t control everything that happens to you. – But you can control how you react to things. Everyone’s life has positive and negative aspects — whether you’re happy or not depends greatly on which aspects you focus on. For instance: Did you catch a head cold? At least it’s only a temporary virus and nothing life-threatening. Did you lose a basketball game? Thankfully you got to spend the afternoon with friends doing something fun and healthy. Did your stock market savings go down? It’ll bounce back in the long-term. And besides, it’s great that you’ve been diligent and fortunate enough to save a nest egg of savings when many people are barely making ends meet. You get the idea.
- Life is NOT easy. – If you expect it to be, you will perpetually disappoint yourself. Achieving anything worthwhile in life takes effort. So start every morning ready to run farther than you did yesterday and fight harder than you ever have before. Above all, make sure you properly align your efforts with your goals. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it in the end.
- Your future is spotless. – Regardless of how filthy your past has been, your future is still spotless. Don’t start your day with the broken pieces of yesterday. Don’t look back unless it’s a good view. Every day is a fresh start. Each day is a new beginning. Every morning we wake up is the first day of the rest of our life. One of the very best ways to get beyond past troubles is to concentrate all of your attention and effort on doing something that your future self will thank you for.
- You are not trapped; you just need to re-learn a few things. – We all have doubts that make us feel trapped at times. If you doubt your ability to make a life-altering decision, to take on a new chapter in your life, or to fend for yourself after years of being overly-fostered, consider this: Surely if a bird with healthy wings is locked in a cage long enough, she will doubt her own ability to fly. You still have your wings, but your muscles are weak. Train them and stretch them slowly. Give yourself time. You’ll be flying again soon.
- Everything in life is two-sided. – There is good reason why we can’t expect to feel pleasure without ever feeling pain; joy without ever feeling sorrow; confident without ever feeling fear; calm without ever feeling restless; hope without ever feeling despair: There is no such thing as a one-sided coin in life, with which one can buy a pain-free, trouble-free existence.
- You always have a choice. – No matter what, there are always at least two options. If you can’t physically change something, you can change the way you think about it. You can sit in the dark, or you can find your inner light and discover powerful pieces of yourself you never knew existed. You can view a crisis as an invitation to learn something new, viewing the shake-up in your outer world as an enlightening opportunity to wake-up your inner world.
- Let others in when you’re in a dark place. – No, they won’t always be able to pull you out of the dark place you’re in, but the light that spills in when they enter will at least show you which way the door is.
- If you ask negative questions, you will get negative answers. – There are no positive answers to, “Why me?” “Why didn’t I?” “What if?” etc. Would you allow someone else to ask you the demoralizing questions you sometimes ask yourself? I doubt it. So stop and swap them for questions that push you in a positive direction. For instance, “What have I learned from this experience?” “What do I have control over?” “What can I do right now to move forward?”
- The end is a new beginning. – Say to yourself: “Dear Past, thank you for all the life lessons you have taught me. Dear Future, I am ready now!” Because a great beginning always occurs at the point you thought would be the end of everything.
Photo by: Chris Schoenbohm