“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.”
― Iain Thomas
This article was inspired by a short email we received this morning from a new course student:
Dear Marc and Angel,
There’s so much meaning and value I want to foster in my present life, and yet a tragic past continues to drag me down. I feel like I have weights tied to my ankles. It’s the heaviness of grief that still sneaks up on me. Truly, I’ve been through a lot – the toughest and most heartbreaking of which was losing my husband in a car accident when he was only 35-years-old. And right now, six years later, I’m at a point where I’m trying to make the best of a bad situation, but I wake up on some mornings and just can’t seem to let go of the way things were “supposed to be” in my life.
Anyway, I know you can’t solve all my problems, but I was hoping you could shine some light on my situation. I could use a little perspective today. Do you have any wisdom you could share?
A Struggling Student
Our reply (an open reply to all who are trying to make the best of a bad situation):
Dear Struggling Student,
Angel and I just finished reading your email, together, and we sincerely wish we could start by giving you two of the biggest, longest hugs imaginable. But since that’s not possible at this very moment, let me tell you about an unexpected phone call I received in the middle of the night last night.
My phone rang just before midnight. I didn’t answer. Then it rang again a minute later. I rolled over, grabbed it off the nightstand, and squinted at its bright, glowing screen. “Claire,” it read. Claire is a close friend – a friend who tragically lost her husband to cancer last year. And I figured since she rarely calls me in the middle of the night, it was probably important.
“Hey, Claire. Is everything OK?” I asked.
“No!” she declared as she burst into tears. “I need to talk… I need help…”
“I’m listening,” I reassured her. “What’s on your mind?”
“I lost my job this evening, and I’m tired, and I can’t sleep, and I just don’t know about anything anymore…”
“Sometimes I don’t know either,” I said. “But I do know that a job is just a job. They come and go. Remember, Angel lost her job awhile back and it was a blessing in disguise. She found something much better.”
“I know, I know,” she sighed over her tears. “I just felt like the world was going to end after the cancer… Ya know? And then my friends and family helped me get back on my feet…”
“And you’re still on your feet right now,” I added.
“Well, sometimes I feel like I am, and sometimes I feel like I’m barely maintaining my balance, and sometimes I feel like I’m falling again. And this series of feelings just keeps cycling over and over again in a loop – good days followed by bad days and vice versa. It’s just one long struggle. And I’m exhausted!”
“But you keep moving forward…”
“Actually,” she continued over more tears. “The only way I’ve found to keep myself moving forward from moment to moment through the bad days is by repeating a short saying my grandmother taught me when I was a kid. And I don’t know how or why it helps now, but it does.”
“What’s the saying?” I asked.
“Do your best with what’s in front of you and leave the rest to the powers above you,” she replied.
I smiled. Because I love pieces of inspirational prose that help people progress through even the hardest of times. And because it suddenly reminded me of a short story my grandmother told me when I was a kid – one that’s also applicable to Claire’s circumstances.
“Your grandmother was a wise woman,” I said. “And it’s funny, because your grandmother’s saying reminds me of a short story my grandmother once told me. Would you like to hear it?”
“Yeah,” she replied.
So I told her the story…
Once upon a time, in a small Indian village, the village fisherman accidentally dropped his favorite fishing pole into the river and was unable to retrieve it. When his neighbors caught word of his loss, they came over and said, “That’s just bad luck!” The fisherman replied, “Perhaps.”
The following day, the fisherman hiked a mile down the bank of the river to see if he could find his fishing pole. He came upon a small, calm alcove in the riverbank that was loaded to the brim with salmon. He used his older backup fishing pole to catch nearly 100 salmon, loaded them into his wagon, and brought them back to the village to barter with other villagers. Everyone in the village was ecstatic to receive the fresh salmon. When his neighbors caught word of his success, they came over and said, “Wow! What great luck you have!” The fisherman replied, “Perhaps.”
Two days later, the fisherman began hiking back towards the alcove so he could catch more salmon. But a tenth of a mile into the hike, he tripped on a tree stump and severely sprained his ankle. He slowly and painfully hopped back to the village to nurse his health. When his neighbors caught word of his injury, they came over and said, “That’s just bad luck!” The fisherman replied, “Perhaps.”
Four days went by, and although the fisherman’s ankle was slowly healing, he could not yet walk, and the village was completely out of fish to eat. Three other villagers volunteered to go to the river to fish while the fisherman recovered. That evening, when the three men did not return, the village sent a search party out for them only to discover that the men had been attacked and killed by a pack of wolves. When the fisherman’s neighbors caught word of this, they came over and said, “You’re so lucky you weren’t out there fishing. What great luck you have!” The fisherman replied, “Perhaps.”
“A few days later… well, you can guess how the story continues,” I said.
Claire chuckled softly and said, “Thank you.” Because the moral of the story was immediately clear to her. We just don’t know – we never do. Life is an unpredictable phenomenon. No matter how good or bad things seem right now, we can never be 100% certain what will happen next.
And this actually lifts a huge weight off of our shoulders. Because it means that regardless of what’s happening to us right now – good, bad or indifferent, it’s all just part of the phenomenon we call “life” – which flows like the river in my grandmother’s story, unpredictably from one occurrence to the next. And the smartest choice we can make is to swim with the flow of the river.
Which means, quite simply, not panicking in the face of unforeseen misfortunes or losing our poise in limelight of our triumphs, but instead “doing our best with what’s in front of us and leaving the rest to the powers above us.”
On most days, Claire does just that, and she does so with grace. She is such an incredible human being – a beacon of hope!
And as Angel and I read your email together, it became quite clear to us that YOU and Claire have a lot in common.
Truth be told, the wisest, most loving, and well-rounded people Angel and I have ever met are undoubtedly those who have known misery, known defeat, known the heartbreak of losing something or someone they loved, and have found their way out of the depths of their own despair by making the best of bad situations. These people have experienced many ups and downs, and have gained an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, kindness, and a deep loving wisdom. People like this aren’t born – they develop slowly over the course of time.
We feel blessed to have worked with hundreds of these incredible people over the past decade, both online and offline, through our Getting Back to Happy course and coaching. In many cases they came to us feeling stuck and lost, unaware of their own brilliance, blind to the fact that their struggles have strengthened them and given them an upper hand in this crazy world.
YOU are one of these people.
YOU are so incredibly strong and brilliant.
YOU are a light that shines brighter than you know.
Thank YOU for being a beacon of hope in our lives.
Thank YOU for being YOU!
Marc and Angel
Please leave a comment below and let us know:
What has helped YOU make the best of a bad situation?
Anything else to share?
We would love to hear from YOU. 🙂
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