“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
The wisest, most loving, and well-rounded people you have ever met are likely those who have been shattered in some way. Yes, life often creates the greatest humans by breaking them first. It’s the painstaking journey of falling apart and coming back together that fills their hearts and minds with a level of compassion, understanding, and deep loving wisdom that can’t possibly be acquired any other way.
Angel and I have worked with hundreds of these incredible people over the past decade, both online and offline, through various forms of coaching and live events. 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 a resilient upper hand in this crazy world. Honestly, many of these people are now our biggest heroes. Over the years they have given us as much, if not more, than we have given them. And they continue to be some of our greatest sources of inspiration.
So today, to honor these unlikely heroes of ours, we want to share a selection of their stories with you (with full permission, of course). Below you will find bite-size excerpts from 20 different emails we’ve received over the years — they are super short but incredibly focused accounts of real life, real struggle, and the human resilience required to take the next step. There’s definitely something here for all of us to think, smile, and cry about:
1. Happier Now
“It’s been exactly ten years since my controlling, abusive ex-fiancé sold my favorite guitar which cost almost $2,000 and took me ages to save for. He sold it on the day I broke up with him. When I went to pick up my belongings, he was proud that he had sold it to a local pawnshop. Luckily, I managed to track down the guy who bought it from the pawnshop. The guy was really sweet and gave it back to me for free, on the condition that I join him on his front porch for an hour and play guitar with him. He grabbed a second guitar and we ended up sitting there on his porch for the rest of the afternoon playing music, talking, and laughing. He’s been my husband for almost nine years now, and we are happier now than ever.”
2. The Very First Time
“Last night just before bed, my daughter, whom I adopted three years ago at the age of seven, called me ‘mom’ for the very first time.”
3. Absolutely OK
“The happiest moment of my life is still that split-second a year ago when, as I laid crushed under a 2000-pound car, I realized my husband and nine-year-old boy were out of the vehicle and absolutely OK.”
4. A Second Chance
“Today, on my 47th birthday, I re-read the death note I wrote on my 27th birthday about two minutes before my girlfriend showed up at my apartment and told me, ‘I’m pregnant.’ She was honestly the only reason I didn’t follow through with it. Suddenly I felt I had something to live for. Today she’s my wife, and we’ve been happily married for 19 years. And my daughter, who is now a 19-year-old college student, has two younger brothers. I re-read my death note every year on my birthday as a reminder to be thankful — I am thankful I got a second chance at life.”
5. I Remember
“It’s been five years since my mom—my best friend in the world—was in a car accident that resulted in her losing all of her long-term memory from before the crash. When I was little, my mom and I used to quote a Winnie The Pooh book as an inside joke. One of us would ask, “Have you ever seen a dragon fly?” And the other would reply, ‘I have, I have seen a dragon fly!’ This evening I was sitting with her while we were watching TV and I randomly asked, ‘Have you ever seen a dragon fly?’ And she responded with, ‘I have, I have seen a dragon fly!’ We stared at each other for a prolonged moment, and then she jumped out of her seat and exclaimed, ‘Oh my gosh, I remember!’”
6. A Day Older
“I’m sitting in my hospital bed waiting to have both my breasts removed. But in a strange way I feel like the lucky one. Up until now I have had no health problems. I’m a 69-year-old woman in the last room at the end of the hall before the pediatric division of the hospital begins. Over the past few hours I have watched dozens of cancer patients being wheeled by in wheelchairs and rolling beds. None of these patients could be a day older than 17. And right now, I’m feeling like the lucky one.”
7. He’s The One
“My dad is a blind cancer survivor. He lost both his eyes when he was in his early 30’s to a rare form of cancer. Despite this, he raised my sister and I, and took care of my mom who was in and out of rehab for alcoholism and depression. My mom is a fully recovered alcoholic now, my sister and I have graduated college, and my parents are still together and back to being happy. I’m certain none of this would have been possible if my dad hadn’t been such a resilient, positive force in our lives. My dad’s mental strength literally saved our family. And he’s the one who pointed me towards your blog.”
8. Perfectly Healthy
“Earlier this week I went to the doctor’s office because I was experiencing awful stomach pains. They ran some tests, took blood, and told me they’d contact me in a few days. I assumed the pain was at least partially due to stress. Three weeks ago, at the age of 35, my husband, the love of my life, died from a heart attack. And this afternoon I felt another wave of despair come over me, feeling like I had nothing left. As I sat there the phone rang; it was the doctor. She said, ‘You’re perfectly healthy. You’re pregnant.’ And in that moment I cried, happy tears, for the first time three weeks. Because a couple months ago a fertility clinic discovered a condition with my husband that they said would take “a small miracle” for us to get pregnant.
9. The Guidepost
“I’m an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran. Upon arriving home 10 years ago from my final tour in Afghanistan, I found out that my wife had been cheating on me and had spent almost all of our savings. I had nowhere to stay and no phone and was suffering from pretty severe anxiety. One of my close friends from high school, Shaun, and his wife, seeing that I was in need of help, took me in and let me live with their family of five. They helped me deal with my divorce, and ultimately gave me space to get my life together. Since then I’ve moved into my own place, rediscovered my passion for life, opened a fairly successful local diner, and my friend’s kids call me Uncle Jay when they see me. The way they supported me and adopted me into their family in my desperate time of need is now the guidepost for how I try to live my life.”
10. There Is Hope
“I’ve been dying of Leukemia since my 17th birthday. I was sent home from the hospital for my final few weeks 156 days ago. But now I’m back at the hospital being treated again, because my doctors now believe there is hope.”
11. Home Now
“Today, after my daughter’s funeral, and several hours of tearful soul-searching, I started going through my phone and deleting two weeks’ worth of condolence messages. There were so many of them that I eventually selected ‘delete all,’ but one message didn’t delete. It was one of the last messages my daughter left me before she died, and it was still marked as ‘new.’ Sometimes my voicemail forces me to listen to old messages before I can delete them, so played it, even though I really didn’t want to at that moment. My daughter said, “Hey dad, I just wanted to let you know I’m okay and I’m home now.”
“After three years of separation, and lots of regretful drama, my ex-wife and I finally resolved our differences and we met for dinner last night. We laughed and chatted for almost five hours. Then just before we parted ways, she handed me a large envelope. In it were 20 ‘love and forgiveness’ letters she wrote me over the last three years. There was a post-it note on the envelope that read, ‘Letters I was too stubborn to send.’ And even crazier is that I wrote her a few letters too, and I still have them stored on my work computer’s desktop.”
13. Simple Pleasures
“Yesterday, after completing eight straight months of depression rehab at a live-in treatment center, I spent my first day out with my five-year-old daughter. We sat on my parent’s front porch all day making construction paper collages. The sight and sound of my daughter’s laughter and the simple pleasures of cutting construction paper and peeling Elmer’s glue off our hands are the best reminders I’ve had in eight months of why I’m choosing life.”
14. Here Praying
“I was born on this day 57 years ago, but today isn’t my birthday, at least not this year. Your birthday doesn’t really come when you’re sitting in a hospital room hoping your wife of 25 years wakes up from a coma. And although the doctors are optimistic, I’m still here praying, and waiting, patiently.”
15. A Truly Beautiful Day
“Last night there was a family of six staying at the hotel where I work. They were hanging out in the lobby sharing stories, laughing, and taking turns reading excerpts from a joke book. I asked them where they were from. ‘Oh, we’re from here,’ the father said. ‘Our house literally burned down yesterday, but miraculously all of us got out safely. And that makes today a truly beautiful day!’”
16. The Sunrise
“I realized that although it was the darkest period of my life, if I had not struggled through, and beaten, seven years of an eating disorder and severe depression, I would not be here now smiling so appreciatively at the sunrise through my living room window.”
17. Better Now
“It took years, but when I finally found the courage to divorce him after decades of abuse, I found myself feeling alone because most of our mutual friends continued to believe his lies instead of my bruises and my depression. But I’m getting better now.”
18. I Have Chosen
“I recently lost the respect of a few people I love, and the desire to hurt myself, when I finally told everyone the truth about who I really am and what I have decided to do with my life. In a nutshell, I have chosen to love and honor myself, instead of convincing others to do it for me every day.”
19. She Squeezed Back
“At 8 A.M. this morning, after nearly four months of lifelessness in her hospital bed, we took my mom off life support. And her heart continued beating on its own. And she continued breathing on her own. Then this evening, when I squeezed her hand three times, she squeezed back three times.”
20. A Promise
“This afternoon, at the age of 70, I graduated from The University of North Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in business. I’ve been a successful business owner most of my life, but I decided to earn my degree to fulfill a promise I made to my mom before she lost her battle with cancer on my 20th birthday, 50 years ago.”
(Note: Our newest publication via Penguin Random House, “The Good Morning Journal: Powerful Prompts and Reflections to Start Every Day”, is a great tool for daily reflection on your own life story and journey.)
Growth Through Difficult Times
The stories above obviously hold many lessons, but as I mentioned earlier, one lesson they collectively share is that hard times don’t just break a person, these times can also make a person…
Hard times are like strong storms that blow against your body and mind. And it’s not just that these storms hold you back from places you might otherwise go. They also tear away from you all but the essential parts of you that cannot be torn, so that afterward you see yourself as you really are in the present, without the needless attachments and crutches you’ve been clinging to.
In a very real sense, you are here to endure these storms, to risk your heart — to be bruised by life. And when it happens that you are hurt, or betrayed, or rejected, let yourself sit quietly with your eyes closed and remember all the good times you had, and all the sweetness you tasted, and everything you learned in between. Tell yourself how amazing the journey has been, and then remind yourself that life’s difficulties are a necessary part of it all.
In all seasons of life, your goal shouldn’t be to seek a perfect and pain-free existence, but to live an imperfect and sometimes difficult one in radical amazement. To get up every morning and take a good look around in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is extraordinary in its own right. Every day is a gift. Never treat life casually. To be spiritual in any way is to be amazed in every way.
And it’s important to note, too, that Angel and I don’t just preach. We’ve endured our own pain, crawled through our own strong storms, and learned from firsthand experience many times over. Over the past 15 years we have dealt with several severe hardships, including the sudden death of a sibling, the loss of a best friend to illness, significant betrayal from a business partner, an unexpected breadwinning employment layoff that forced us out of our home, and more. These experiences were brutal. Each of them knocked us down hard and kept us down for a while. But when our time of mourning was over after each hardship, we pressed forward, stronger, and with a greater understanding and respect for life…
Of course, it’s not the path we would have chosen, but it is the path we have accepted and embraced. (Note: Angel and I discuss our journey and life story more in our books, “Getting Back to Happy” and “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently”.)
Now, it’s your turn…
Yes, it’s your turn to own your own story, and to not let life’s past bitterness steal your sweetness. Remember, no life story is one chapter long. No chapter tells the whole tale. No event entirely defines who you are. Give yourself all the time and love you need, but keep turning the pages that need to be turned…
And before you go, please leave Angel and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this post. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
Which bite-size story above resonated the most today? Anything else to share?
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