Stepping onto a brand new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation that no longer fits, or no longer exists.
The reason for our suffering, in all walks of life, is our resistance to life’s inevitable changes.
And life is all changes. To have lived is to have changed often.
Sometimes this is hard to accept…
What you have today may become what you had by tomorrow. You never know. Things change, often spontaneously. People and circumstances come and go. Life doesn’t stop for anybody. It moves rapidly and rushes from calm to chaos in a matter of seconds, and happens like this to people every day. It’s likely happening to someone nearby right now.
Sometimes the shortest split second in time changes the direction of our lives. A seemingly innocuous decision rattles our whole world like a meteorite striking Earth. Entire lives have been swiveled and flipped upside down, for better or worse, on the strength of an unpredictable event. And these events are always happening.
However good or bad a situation is now, it will change. That’s the one thing you can count on.
And while I resist change, and suffer sometimes just like everyone else, I have learned to adapt. I have learned to be flexible and look for the beauty in life’s changes, even when they aren’t what I want. But before we get into how to do that, let’s take a look at…
Common Life changes All of Us Tend to Resist
- Someone you respect snaps and yells at you – The change is rooted in the fact that we expect certain people to behave a certain way. Specifically, we expect them to always treat us kindly, fairly and respectfully, but the reality is that they don’t. They lose their tempers sometimes. And when they do, we resist this reality, and want things to be the way we want them to be. It forces us to change our perceptions and expectations. And so we get confused, agitated, or even offended.
- Your 10-month-old (or 10-year-old or 20-year-old) refuses to listen to you – Again, we expect our children to behave a certain way, but of course reality is different, especially as they are growing and maturing. And when the present reality of their behaviors doesn’t conform to our expectations, we get worried and stressed out.
- You get laid off or fired by your employer – Sometimes, in the haste of our busy lives, we tend to confuse what we do for a living with who we are. So when you lose your job, things get really complicated because this change affects not only your livelihood but your identity as well. If you are a personal fitness trainer, and you lose your job, and you’re struggling to find a new one, who are you in the interim? You now have to deal with the changes in how you identify yourself. This can be extremely challenging, and resisting these changes (and the financial challenges that come with the job loss) can be quite painful.
- You suddenly realize you have too much on your plate – In other words, you’ve gradually committed yourself to way too many obligations and you’re finally at the point where you feel overwhelmed by the fact that you have more things you’re ‘supposed to’ be doing and not enough time to do them. You realize something has changed, and something needs to change again – because you can’t possible be everything to everyone, or everywhere at once. And this upsets you, because you thought you could do it all, but of course you can’t.
- A close friend or family member passes away – One of the ultimate life changes is death, of course. A person who gave meaning to our life is now no longer in our life (at least not in the flesh), and we are not the same person without them. We have to change who we are – we’re now a best friend who sits alone, a widow instead of a wife, a dad without a daughter, or a next-door neighbor to someone new. We want life to be the way it was, before death, but it never will be.
Obviously, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Change is the only constant thing in life. Every fraction of a second is different, and we resist it. Our day gradually passes, our body gradually ages, our relationships gradually shift, other people don’t act the way they used to, we ourselves begin to think differently, and this is tough to deal with.
So this is the pain of life’s changes, of realizing that we are not in control, of reality evolving and not meeting our expectations.
But how do we find the beauty in this?
The key is to cope with change in healthy ways, rather than hopeless ways…
We can cope with change hopelessly in many ways (and sadly many of us do):
- Screaming at other people and ourselves
- Drinking lots of alcohol
- Using drugs
- Watching one mindless television show after the next
- Sitting around all day and feeling sorry for ourselves
Or we can find healthy ways to cope:
- Meditation and mindfulness rituals
- Discussing our problems honestly with a counselor or coach
- Focusing on the next step forward – i.e. controlling what can be controlled rather than craving control over the uncontrollable
But the most important thing to understand is that all healthy coping strategies require us to embrace life’s changes, first and foremost.
Think about it. If changes are a basic fact of life, then why resist? Why not embrace, let go and live fully?
Why not see the beauty in life’s changes?
I know it’s hard – but only because we’re so darn used to resisting.
Let’s put aside our habitual resistance and judgmental impulses for a bit, and instead look for…
The Beauty in Life’s (Painful) Changes
- Someone you respect snaps and yells at you – This person is hurting, frustrated or angry, and is taking it out on you because you’re close to them. They’re reaching out, wanting to be saved from the uncontrollable, and (of course) they’re not succeeding. Can you empathize with this? Have you ever been in their shoes? There is beauty in our parallels, in our joint struggles, in our interconnection as human beings. Emotionally embrace this beautiful, hurting human being, feel her pain as she deals with the change in her life, give your compassion, and then carry on without taking her struggles personally.
- Your 10-month-old (or 10-year-old or 20-year-old) refuses to listen to you – Remarkably, your child is maturing and asserting her independence. She’s thinking her own thoughts, and proving that she is her own human being, not just a little minion that follows orders. Have you ever been in her shoes – perhaps at work or earlier in life? Have you ever been agitated by someone else trying to control you? There is beauty in this kind of growth and independence, this fighting spirit, this coming of age. See the beauty and smile. Appreciate it. Give your child some space to learn and grow.
- You get laid off or fired by your employer – As difficult as losing your job is, it’s an ending that leads to the beginning of everything that comes next. Let the heaviness of being successful be replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again. This new beginning is the start of a different story, the opportunity to refresh your life, to reinvent who you are. See the beauty in this opportunity – the freedom and liberation from a fixed routine – a solid foundation from which you can rebuild your life the way you always wanted it to be.
- You suddenly realize you have too much on your plate – When your plate is too full, life is difficult, there’s no question about that, but it’s still possible to appreciate the chaos of your daily tasks and obligations. No, you can’t do everything, or be everything to everyone, or be everywhere at once, but you can let go of wanting everything to be under your complete control every second. There is beauty in the chaos of your day. It is random, it is wild… it is real life. And it means you have people, projects, passions, and ideas in your life that move you. Notice the pain of your resistance, and the beauty in your struggle. Then realize you can only do one thing at a time, so just do that one thing. Then let it go, and do the next thing. And do it with a cheerful heart.
- A close friend or family member passes away – Certainly the most painful life change of them all, death can be sad. Angel and I have dealt with the loss of siblings and best friends to illness, so we know from experience that when you lose someone you can’t imagine living without, your heart breaks wide open. And the bad news is you never completely get over the loss – you will never forget them. However, in a backwards way, this is also the good news. You see, death is an ending, which is a necessary part of living. And endings are necessary for beauty too – otherwise it’s impossible to appreciate someone or something, because they are unlimited. Limits illuminate beauty, and death is the definitive limit – a reminder that we need to be aware of this beautiful person or situation, and appreciate this beautiful thing called life. Death is also a beginning, because while we have lost someone special, this ending, like the loss of a job, is a moment of reinvention. Although sad, their passing forces us to reinvent our lives, and in this reinvention is an opportunity to experience beauty in new, unseen ways and places. And finally, of course, death is an opportunity to celebrate a person’s life, and to be grateful for the beauty they showed us.
With a life coaching career that spans a decade, Angel and I have worked with people of all ages, in all walks of life, from every corner of the globe, and I can honestly say that nothing is more beautiful and powerful than a smile that has struggled through the tears. So don’t regret your time, even the moments that were filled with painful life changes. Smile because you learned from these twists and turns and gained the strength to rise above them and adapt.
Ultimately, it’s not what you have been through that defines who you are; it’s how you got through it that has made you the person you are today, and the person you are capable of being tomorrow. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
What painful life changes have you had to cope with? How have these changes shaped the person you are today? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights.
Photo by: Gaia Pazzagli
The past five years have been tough. I lost my sister in a car accident, and my father to cancer. Keeping a positive attitude about everything else in my life seemed nearly impossible for awhile. But with some advice and emotional tools Marc and Angel gave me on a coaching session last year, I’ve been making gradual progress. And that’s especially important right now because my husband just got laid off… which of course is another life challenge.
So what have I been doing to cope? I keep an Attitude of Gratitude Log Book, on bad days and good days. When I get discouraged, I write even more things that I am grateful for. With each major life transition, I create a Vision Board to remind me to move towards what I want and need with an open heart full of of hope. Worrying never helps, so it’s best to approach life’s challenges as an adventure, a game and with a playful spirit.
As I’ve said, my husband recently got laid off, and although we could be panicked, we are choosing to view this as an opportunity to find something even better for him! I was even able to get him to make his first Vision Board! Each morning I ask him what is the Word-of-the-Day. He is having fun thinking about these new qualities and aspects to his next job. So we found a way to connect, be supportive, and dare I say – have some fun with this latest challenge, er, opportunity!
Blessings to all.
Kristen B. says
I can especially relate to the theme of this post when I frame it around the the struggles I’ve gone through with my failed marriage. Yes, I’ve gone through a tremendous upheaval over the last year. Events seemed so sudden, like an earthquake but then I stepped back and assessed the situation. I realized that the suddenness of the events was an illusion, little tremors were happening from the very start of the relationship.
I’ve been blessed to realize that the destruction of my marriage was a tremendous gift. It was the universe showing me what happens when I don’t believe in myself and my intuition. At first I found darkness all around me but instead of giving up, I took deep breaths and finally ignored all the voices around me and I’m finally following my own path, taking my own advice, honoring my intuition and I feel amazing.
I Agree with everything you’ve said here. It’s really just a matter of reframing our thinking, and then taking positive action.
One such action I’ve been taking is daily meditation. It helps me cut out the noise – and that’s important because mental noise is the plague of someone neurotic like me – and it is so simple to meditate. I used to think it was woo-woo and kind of lame, myself, but after going through insanely tough times, I can say that it’s the best medicine. Everything afterwards is like seeing in HD. Reality as it is, and not what you see it as. (I’ve just started taking your happiness course, as well, which provides some scientific knowledge about meditation. For that I’m grateful.)
ANYWAY, I Love these five points, especially the “too much on your plate” part/link, though I’d say that only comes as a consequence of having lots of decent options…not necessarily a bad thing if you can reframe things and center yourself. But then again, that’s the hard part, right? 😉
Sara Stein says
There’s always beauty to be seen, it’s just a matter of how open our eyes are to really see it in the first place, right? What might look like pain at the moment often ends up being something incredible in the long run, and will have caused something amazing and beautiful to come from it.
Massive thunderstorm = rainbow, Huge forest fire = regrowth.
Rose Costas says
Thanks for this awesome post. I have had some very rough times and most of it is because I constantly resist the changes life is giving me because it didn’t seem the right thing at the time.
Even though I haven’t figured it out as yet I am more content and trying to accept those changes. I am trying hard to see the good in it even though it is still covered by dark clouds.
Again, thanks for the encouragement.
Change is a great teacher of life. At the moment, I am going thru many challenges such as jobs and relationship changes with a great friend and love one. At times it’s challenging not to get overwhelm however I make a list daily of three things that are working for me and how that is moving me closer to my goals and dreams.
It’s interesting how even our dreams change with time. The one thing that is consistent is change. With time I have learned to accept and welcome change with open arms.
When raising a daughter with autism spectrum disorder, I started to do 3 things a day that I knew helped. No matter how bad the day, we did three things each day. It gave me a focus and usually made the day better. That one little tactic made a very challenging situation manageable. (Now decades later my daughter is an amazing young married woman that was not even thought possible at that time.)
When I recently found myself stuck after several years of extremely painful “hits” that I couldn’t believe were happening to us (loss of health, job, income, retirement, and housing), I went back to this method of repetitively doing 3 or 4 helpful things I could do each day.
Although it may not be beauty, it helped me to start moving forward again, and it was followed by starting to dream and seeing a future once again.
Awesome tips for dealing with difficulties!
I guess my way of avoiding the “pain” in these situations is to think like an economist and spread out the risk;
If you depend too much on your job, or build your entire life around a single relationship, of course it’s going to hit you hard if something happens to it! But if you spread out the risks by living a well-balanced, healthy life with a strong core of confidence, you will be far less vulnerable to the setbacks of life!
Fabulous post. Very perceptive into the underlying fears and very helpful ways to see things differently and act to turn them around. Very helpful comments as well. I think I will be revisiting this post again.
Melissa Wilson says
There’s no doubt that the changes that have occurred in our lives have shaped us into the people we are today. Some of those changes can seem like good things, and others not so good. I like how you talk about finding beauty in the painful ones because I believe that a silver lining can always be found. Otherwise it would make it difficult to understand why some things happen to us, if for no reason at all.
mary jane stiles says
Recently lost my 45 year old son. He narrowly escaped death about 10 years ago in a house fire. But he fought hard and was able finally able to function reasonably well. However the trauma took its toll on his body and mind and he died of a heart attack. It was painful to watch his decline but now even more painful dealing with his death. He was my north, my south, my east and my west. I’m trying to create a slide memorial to celebrate his life for friends and family. Wish me luck.
All your articles are helpful. I know I need to speak to someone.. But your articles hit home and help.
Really good articles that always hit home.
The part of you becoming your new best friend is so true. After a loss…Divorce/Death ETC….Whether we like it or not, a growth period WILL begin. Most of us in a “Fight or Flight” situation will choose FLIGHT…Which is exactly what we do when we jump into relationships too soon after a loss…Not a good idea. Growth can be painful, but the reward of becoming your new best friend will definitely outweigh the pain by leaps and bounds.
Looking back over a life overwhelmed with challenges, I realize I tend to create beauty out of my pain by doing needlework. When depression literally knocks me down, and I can get to the point that I can pick up a needle and get the thread through the hole: Working with the colors of thread and fabric begins the process of recovering from the depression episode. Color is the embodiment of light, and it has been proven that light therapy works with depression.
When I’m overwhelmed by situations, little improvements have helped me the most… having a good cry, writing in my thankful journal, pouring my heart out to God and other little steps forward. There just isn’t a one miracle answer; its a gradual process of getting better, or working it out, but the last thing is to make your to do list so long it makes the situation worse. Also, it;s important to remember that being kind to yourself isn’t selfish or a sign of weakness; we all have good and bad temperaments and ways we behave… i know when its bad i am very cynical, so i have to watch that or it will end up even more hurt. I am slowly learning and like Dee said she found her own way to overcome.
Thank you for this beautiful post of encouragement. It came through at the right time, right now I am going through a painful challenge in life and as I am trying to accept it and feel better, I realize it’s for the better and something greater lies ahead. Keep up the good work!
Thank you, this is great advice! Very inspirational! I also like your advice on healthy ways to cope.
Rachel Ang says
I love your posts!!! Thank you for sharing!
Thanks for the post. I still am resisting letting go of a relationship that ended abruptly 2 years ago. it has made my life sadder- but i don’t want to let go, it is all that i have of that person… They have moved on, but i can’t… this is my life.
It’s often hard to think this way, but it’s very necessary to find the silver linings like this. Thanks so much for sharing your insight here!
Your daily mails co-relate to me on a daily basis. As if you were reading my mind and penning it specially for me. I truly enjoy reading your articles and forward it to many a friends who, like me, are going through troubled waters in our daily life.
I thank the almighty for bringing you and your articles into my life. God bless you…..always.
Václav Dekanovský says
Thank you. When my grand father unexpectedly passed away we were all shocked, we cried, but I tried to remember what good things he taught me and how he influenced my life and I was able to smile even in those worst first days. It was not until he died that I realized how much he actually gave me. There’s a bright part in everything.
I’ve struggled with #1 for a long time and not understanding that a loved one’s anger, frustration & stress is about them and their situation vs being upset with me since it was getting taken out on me. I took it personal. At some point don’t you have to stop being compassionate when it becomes a pattern even when you love them with all your heart?
My mother just passed away April 9th. This message means a lot to me. Thank you for the email reply too.
I think that change is one of the most important things in the world. It’s good to meditate on this sometimes.
Marc Chernoff says
@Anonymous: Yes. I think this post may help give you some perspective: 10 Things to Remember About Toxic Family Members.
@Everyone: THANK YOU for the replies. Your willingness to share with us inspires us more than you know. YOU honestly fuel our motivation to keep this blog up-to-date. We are grateful. 🙂
I’ve gone through rough and terrible times in my life, i have fallen a great deal and got back in my feet but, i was hit hard to the ground and could not rise up. I decided to stay down and thinking my life has come to an end could not move any further. I hated my self and the life I’m in as well as everybody around me. Lots of times i thought of taking my life but the one thing that kept me away from committing suicide was my little boy and girl. The moment i started reading you guys articles online i found that moment of truth. I found calmness in me and to sum it all, your articles lifted my spirit beyond imagination. I followed every step on the way and today I’m glad to say that my life has been perfect ever since. Success has been on my door step ever since. I chose to be happy and here i am today happy and doing what i do best successfully. You guys are awesome you brought light into my life and made me believe. You lifted my spirit and made my life so worthwhile i simply cant thank you enough all i can say is through you life has changed. Thanks a million times.
I’m struggling with letting go of a 30 yr marriage, and the guilt that goes with it, and the reality of growing old alone.
Thank you ,thank you , I read your words every day.
Leaving a relationship after 50 years is scary. I am empty and drained of tears. I started receiving your readings about 9 months ago. They gave me the courage to take this great big step, to start living without criticism, lack of respect and worthlessness.
I do deserve more, I still have a lot to offer to those who will appreciate me for being me. With your readings and taking one day at a time I will create a new and happy life. God bless you.
My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer earlier this year. A good friend who I would normally lean on is also going through a divorce, and is completely unavailable to me to the point where seems to go out of her way to avoid me – stayed with someone else when I stayed at her place (we live in different cities), won’t return phone calls or texts. It’s such a confusing time of loss. I’m trying to remember there is a lesson (although I have no idea what it is), to be grateful for the friends I do have and for the time I’ve had with my wonderful mother, and let go of hurt. But I’m finding it difficult to grasp both my mom’s vulnerability and how hurtful it is to be shut out by someone I’ve considered a good friend most of my life during this extremely painful time. My main focus is to let go of hurt. Just let it go. But it is so hard.
The death of my one of my mother’s sisters has helped me reach out to my family more. My Aunt was the one I went to when I was in trouble; if I was worried about something or needed advice. Even if she couldn’t help me get out of a situation, it was great being able to talk to her about it & get sympathy or a “talking to”, whatever I needed. When she died, I thought I would be even more alone than I was. But now I’m finding it nice to keep in contact with her kids. I’m learning to open up.
Over the past 4-6 years I have been dealing with 6-7 life changing experiences occurring simultaneously and that are still ongoing. While I’ve managed some, they all have eventually worn me down to where I am now and feel complerely lost about it all, very beaten down, at a loss, and quite frankly not sure who I am anymore or where I am going. I like what I’ve read, but really need some help. If you actually read these, I need to get unstuck and fast!! I’ve been caught u in this perpetual place of ambiguity for way too long!!!
Having to slow down to take care of my mental health. I’ve been doing nothing but taking care of myself for the past year. I am usually a go-go-go person, and it is hard for me to be gentle to myself.
Sometimes I get impatient and frustrated about my need for slowing down for my mental health’s sake. However, it’s teaching me how to take care of myself.
I try to see the positives about my situation, so that I can deal with it effectively. Shifting perspectives with positive thinking is the key to accepting change, I believe.