Three years have flown by since I stopped practicing law. In that time, I’ve gone back to school, started two new businesses, and created a new career, but two years ago, I was stopped in my tracks. After a presentation I gave didn’t go the way I had hoped and business wasn’t developing at the pace I projected, I almost threw in the towel. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be doing this? Maybe I should go back to practicing law? Maybe I really should have gone to pastry school after all, which was my first attempt at answering the question, “What am I meant to do?”
When things don’t go your way or you’ve failed at something, it’s easy to get stuck in the right now and lose the perspective that goes along with seeing the big picture. According to Dr. Laura King, a psychologist at the University of Missouri, human beings just aren’t very good at predicting how they’ll behave when hit with a real adversity. Whether you’re stuck trying to accomplish a particular goal or are going through a big life crisis, here are five questions from Health magazine to help you see the bigger picture:
1) Have I experienced anything like this before? If yes, how did I deal with it? Last year, The New York Times reported on a study from The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which suggested that those people who have gone through two to six prior stressful life events (compared to those who had either not gone through any major life challenges or those who had reported more than a dozen major life adversities) showed the most resilience in response to recent setbacks. The past events served as a road map or template people could use to dig themselves out of future challenges.
2) Is this event going to change my life in a way that I’ll never recover from? Depending on the severity of the challenge, you may have to face the reality that your life will have a “new normal,” but many people will be able to recover on some level. When your “what-ifs” feel like “what is,” you will struggle to see the situation accurately and will lose perspective. When my fiancé and I broke up three months before our wedding day, I immediately thought that I would never have even the slightest chance of getting married again. I look back now and see how crooked my thinking was, but in the immediate aftermath, it was difficult to see a way out.
3) Is it possible that this event might change my life for the better or open new doors for me? Posttraumatic growth is the positive personal changes that result from an individual’s struggle to deal with highly challenging life events, and it occurs in a wide range of people facing a wide variety of challenging circumstances. According to Tedeschi and Calhoun, there are five factors or areas of growth after a challenging event: renewed appreciation for life, recognizing new paths for your life, enhanced personal strength, improved relationships with others, and spiritual growth. Even if you aren’t dealing with a full-blown crisis, becoming skilled at seeing the good that could result will boost your resilience.
4) Will I still be dealing with this problem next year? Resilient people have a specific way of thinking that helps them get through adversity because they are realistic about the amount of time a setback will last. They have developed a thinking style to help them understand that most challenges won’t be around forever.
5) Do I know anyone who has been through this who can help? My mom went through breast cancer nearly two years ago, and she relied on friends who had been through it too. When another family member was diagnosed with breast cancer, she reached out to my mom. It can be scary going through a death, divorce or illness, and it can be hard to juggle all the stress work and life bring. If you know someone who’s “been there, done that,” it can be a source of comfort and confidence knowing you’re not the only one and that others have been successful at overcoming the same obstacle.
Legendary singer Lena Horne once said, “It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” Life knocks us on our butt every now and again, and being able to see the bigger picture and get some much needed perspective will help you navigate life’s big and small adversities.
Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is a recovering lawyer and stress and resilience expert for high-achieving women who want to re-claim their lives and build habits for more happiness, health, and staying power.
Paula is available for keynote presentations, workshops, media commentary, and private life coaching. Contact Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.marieelizabethcompany.com for more information.
Carey, B. (2011, January 3). On road to recovery, past adversity provides a map. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 15, 2012, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/04/health/04mind.html?_r=0.
Dunn, J. (2012, September). How to bounce back better. Health Magazine.
Tedeschi, R.G., & Calhoun, L.G. (2004). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence. Psychological Inquiry, 15(1), 1-18.