“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
Reminder: Our 6th annual Think Better, Live Better conference is taking place May 28-29, 2022 in Orlando. We just released 4 more discounted early bird tickets that are still available right now (while they last). Check out the 2022 event here.
Our reply (an open reply to all who are trying to make the best of a bad situation):
Dear Struggling Student,
Marc 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, Marc and I lost our jobs awhile back and it was a blessing in disguise. We 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 Marc 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 Marc 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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Thank you for this open letter, Marc and Angel. It’s a beautiful response to the kind of struggles so many of us go through on a daily basis.
When times are tough and I’m trying to make the best of a bad situation, or when I’m desperately struggling to make the slightest bit progress on a goal of mine, my #1 strategy is to consciously tell myself, “You are OK. Stop worrying and complaining.” Then I simply do the best I can with what’s in front of me, one small step at a time, just as you’ve said. Although there were many, this is probably the most life-changing tips I’ve implemented from your course and coaching – it’s a really a strategy I have ritualized into my life and use almost every day.
Also, I try to keep this quote from your book in mind (I have it printed out and hanging on my home office wall): “Worry will not drain tomorrow of its troubles, it will only drain you of your strength today.”
This was indeed a beautiful response to an amazing woman. I can surely relate.
Three years ago, when my husband of 30 years chose to abandon our marriage and move in with a younger woman, and I was simultaneously slapped with the reality that the courts don’t care about infidelity, I felt broken to pieces in more ways than one. But I was determined this hardship was not going to break me, and knew getting back to my faith and core principles would be my strength. This was when I found your blog and book, and devoured these two incredible resources.
I’m happy to away I’ve pieced much of my life back together in a relatively short time. Of course, some days are still difficult for me, but I put one foot in front of the other, no matter what. And I force a smile every morning, even when it’s tough, because it makes me feel better.
So to your struggling student, and Claire, and everyone who it struggling to make the best of it all, keep working at it, keep asking stepping forward, even if they are tiny steps. Know there is always someone who understands and cares, even when everyone seems too busy for you. Marc and Angel often end their emails with “you are not alone.” And that’s the truth! God bless and may His grace surround you and help you through whatever you are going through. Every tomorrow is a clean slate to begin again if necessary. I’m smiling for you and rooting for you. 🙂
Francisco Townes says
Thank you for emailing me this article today. It seems like serendipity, because I really needed it. And I agree with Gloria and Steph, this post is a great one! Incredibly needed by so many.
Lately I have been thinking exactly like your struggling student in many ways, as I’m going through a troubling period in both my personal and business life where nothing seems to be going as planned. My wife and I are working through counseling, but she’s leaning toward divorce. And at the same time my business is struggling due to the loss of a major flagship contract. I’ve been feeling broken down almost every day for the last few weeks. The vast divide between where I am presently in my life and where I want to be is tearing me up inside. But articles like this give me hope and help push me onward a little bit each day. Thank you.
Richard Furleigh says
I know for me one of the big things has been keeping my head down and pushing forward with the idea that it is only temporary. While admittedly I enjoy the highs a little more than your fisherman, I try to look past the lows, because it only rains for so long before the sun shines again.
Like your friend who called too, I find great solace in others. Spending time with friends is almost always a sure fire way to pick up my spirits.
Thank you for for emailing this to me. I too am at a point where I feel like I am sinking and I do not know what to grab on to, to keep by head afloat. I know that life changes daily and I know for myself that God will lead me in the direction He wants me to go if I am smart enough to keep my eyes open. Your inspiration is like a lifeline to me. And I thank you.
Vaishali sharma says
It’s incredible how at same time I read this letter..actually in the morning I was telling my husband that we don’t control situations in our life but can always control our reactions n perspective s towards it..to make the best of situation we r in..we all at some point or other goes through bad situations in life but should never ever loose hope and should always be prepared what ever fate has in store for us..each n every morning brings lots of love, energy n hope..its our turn to shine..
What has helped me make the best of a bad situation? Well, my faith, my family and remembering that I’ve been through so much already and I am still in the game. My Savior has been careful to protect my mind through all of my hills and valleys in life. So, I am prayerful (which is a dialogue between He and me – not this formal stuff that others talk about). M and A, sometimes I get downright ugly and sometimes I roll my eyes and some more. I can come to my Savior and I don’t have to be pretty or made-up. I also look at what someone else would say about my situation (sometimes seeking the counsel of these positive people in my life). For some reason, when someone else looks at your situation, it doesn’t seem as bad to them – which helps me remember that it’s temporary and I just gotta hold on a little while longer. I also exercise. I like to plan my workout routine in advance but if my day is going a certain way, I may not be in the “yoga” mood….I might need to kickbox and kick some tail! ? Some situations require me to take action so there are things on which I go head first. If it’s financial, I am very honest with myself and my husband about what we can and cannot do and the conversation is not always filled with smiles. But it is honest. Same thing when it comes to disagreements in our relationship. I try to pay attention and watch the signs of things that might be getting ready to “need attention” in my life and address them before they get out of hand. Last, I journal to get my feelings out in the air. Sometimes you may feel like no one is able to listen to your heart, so you journal to relieve anxiety and depression that can truly cripple you and keep you from moving forward. When I journal, though, one thing I do consciously is make an honest, honest, HONEST effort to be positive in my entries and make them as long as I would like. I’m real but honest. The reason is that there is always positivity in any challenging situation and that’s what I choose to remember. When I look back on those entries, I remember what bothered me at the time but I am so proud of my focus in the midst of it all. Gratitude goes a long way….no matter what.
What keeps me moving even at hard times are these words that I, myself told my late Father at the time he was terribly ill on a hospital be (he had lost all hopes of survival and believed that was his final momemnts).
I hold his hand beside the hospital bed and told him “Father don’t lose hope, keep the faith that you are going to be just fine, this life is meaningless without Hope, hold on to it”
I always remember that.
Carol Anderson says
An inspiring story, thank you. I lost a child and when I went into my 10 day post op appointment I was told I had cervical cancer. I had to have an immediate hysterectomy. I lost my child and the ability to have children at the age of 27. My husband could not take the ongoing pain and left. Now at the age of 66 I look at this as a blessing. When I was 31 I met the most wonderful man and we have been married for 34 years. Childless , yes. The pain of losing a child and all children still lives with me but with the help of my family and friends I got through it. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of this terrible loss, but I also think of my darling man and all the love he gives me. Life goes on and we all suffer. Hopefully we can all look for something, even one small good thing each day. I am also a chronic pain patient. My physical pain is sometimes unbearable but I try to be good to myself by exercising.
Perla milner says
I thank God for placing me in your path… I hope to meet u both personally in the near future at one of your conferences… may u be blessed for sending me and so many others awareness of love and always words of wisdom.
Sheryll Kay says
Hi Marc and Angel
You have been a reminder over the last 10 years in my role as carer to my Mum and Dad that there is a way of looking at daily challenges that can help when it seems like I am lost and alone. Now that both have gone (Mum most recently) I am aware of grief like never before. I silently beg forgiveness to those that have gone through this and I have not understood. I silently ask for forgiveness for the way in which I have been unable to support my siblings who have not shared the care and who have turned on each other and are going through their own grief. Every second day I am fine. Every second day I don’t wake up in despair for the future. This tunnel of grief is at times short and other times long. Thoughts and feelings I carry are as heavy or as light as they are. Thank you all for who you are and the kindred spirit that this email and comments bring. Nothing matters really except to keep moving forward. And knowing I/you/we are not alone.
I love reading your side since more than 10 years . Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts…. And also the wisdom you collect since so many years. I went with many of your articles through really hard times and they allways have been shining like a hopefull light
Thank you Marc and Angel. I really look forward to reading your posts everyday. You both write in such a way that is very soothing to me, easy to understand and gives me hope.
You are two very special people and your words, posts help so many people.
The quote at the beginning of this article inspired me. “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steals your sweetness”.
This gives me an insight that no matter the situation we find ourself in, we should not let it steal our happiness.
The short story of the fisherman should be a lesson to all of us that some things do happen for some reasons.
In any circumstances, always do your best with what in front of you and leave the rest to the powers above you.
I would like to take a second to Thank you for giving me a reason to live . Seriously its a big statment but its true. You people are the only and biggest inspiration and my Lifeboat.Whenever i feel i am giving up and draining down i come up to you mails and website and calm myself down .I have always prayed god to give you guys more strength and cheer the people like me. The only wish i have is to meet you once in my life ! That will be best day . . Thank You once again.
Do Eun says
MARC AND ANGEL’s email newsletters and blog posts always make me graceful and grateful. Thank you for saying these words. I can feel the real sincerity from your open letter, and I agree with everything said.
Obinna Emmanuel says
This is wonderful advice.
Your posts are very motivational and an inspiration to me to keep pushing on.
Thanks for sharing.
Thank you a lot for sharing this open letter.
I share some thoughts I recently learned:
-There is no life without pain. Just accept it is like this.
-God is the only one who can judge. We should not judge whether sth is good or bad.
-Forgive. That doesn’t mean you approve of it. You might need to say it 1000 times to have effect.
I also started going regularly to the church lately.
And regarding finding your perfect partner:
There are thousands of men who are your vibrational match. Not just one. Find one you like and focus only on the good about him.
What a blessing it was to go back through my emails and find this gem. I had no idea that on the day this was sent, my ex-fiance would tell me that he didn’t want to get married.
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steals your sweetness”.
I am striving to make the above quote my mantra. It’s easy to be hard, but with the help of God, I’ll remain soft, tender, and open to new possibilities.
Sanjay Agarwal says
Great Reply to a troubled woman.
I know you are hosting a live conference in Orlando this coming weekend, but I would love to hear you speak in person if you ever do come to India, especially Kolkata. I would be delighted to meet you.
Your words have magical healing powers. God has given you this ability. You must utilize it for the benefit of mankind. Forget short term benefits. Look at the larger picture. Continue to help people!