WeekdayWisdom.com logo Monday Motivation 8/20/2001

What to do when all seems lost

This weekly feature usually deals with the positive. Today, I'd like to deal with the negative -- what to do when all seems to be going the wrong way.

I wish I had all the answers to life's mysteries -- heck, I really wish I had the numbers to the Powerball lottery -- but no one person seems to know everything, no one person seems to be perfect, and despite what my ex-wife seems to think, nobody's right all of the time, least of all her.

Anyway, here goes.

I've met a lot of people during my still-short life, who have asked variants of the same question: "Why did this happen to me?"
Well, here is the only reasonable answer to that question, and it's taken me a long time to learn it: "What does it matter?"

Now, I know that answer sounds callous, but let me explain -- don't judge me yet.

It's just this simple: It may have been someone else's fault that something bad came your way. It may have been the result of your own action, or inaction. It might be simple chance, or it may have been part of a divine plan. But now it's here -- and you've got only this choice: You can choose to deal with it, or you can choose to run from it.

You know, it's been 21 years since my first marriage, and that marriage was pure hell. I brought it on myself -- I was foolish enough to marry the woman. We just didn't get along, and nothing I could ever do seemed to help. Some four years later, she did me the biggest favor she ever could have done -- she left me.

Stupid person I was, I spent a number of years wallowing in it. I cast myself as a victim. I spent countless hours pondering "Why did this happen to me?"

It's not easy to quit thinking that way. Being a victim is a pretty nice place to be in today's day and age, even when it's the result of your own decisions. Look around you -- the victims get a whole lot of attention, while the rest of us, trying to make the world a better place, get ignored or ridiculed.

I remember when my father died. I was going to college at the time, and I would come home on weekends. My dad died on a Saturday.

My mom, always the positive influence in my life, was devastated at the loss of her partner of almost 45 years. The next morning, however, when I got up, she was committed to making a go of it. She had stayed up all night, worrying and thinking, and rearranging the furniture and the pictures on the wall. She had decided to live.

She was left alone, and remained a widow for the next 20 years. She watched as a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren grew to adulthood. She was still the positive influence in my life -- and the lives of almost everyone she met. If she hadn't put the loss behind her, she could have become a depressed, bitter person. Instead, for the next 20 years, she impacted positively the lives of those who met her.

In her behavior, I saw the power of hope -- which is, after all, the power of living positively.

Somewhere on my journey from misery to life, I learned the secret of dealing with setbacks -- just deal with them and accept them.

I know it sounds simplistic. But ignoring the setbacks won't make a bit of difference, and it'll make the pain last a whole lot longer.

And this short sentence is the core of this very important lesson: It doesn’t matter what you go through in life. It's what you do with it that counts.

Let me try and illustrate this concept, for those of you who think I've lost my mind.

My father, God rest his soul, had one of his feet amputated. I was out of the country for two years at the time, but my brother tells me that my Dad took the loss badly for the first little while. Then, he put it behind him, learned how to walk on an artificial leg, and went on with his life. Till the day he died, many people didn't know he had lost the leg. If he had just wallowed in his "victimhood," he never would have been able to keep contributing. He never would have made the difference that he did over the next few years until his death.

Og Mandino, who wrote the bestseller "The Greatest Salesman in the World," lost his family to divorce, lost his job, and was so broke that he couldn't buy a gun to kill himself with. Rather than killing himself, he decided to live, and millions have had their lives blessed by his writings.

Abraham Lincoln fought depression for much of his life, lost his sweetheart, had a nervous breakdown, lost a Senate bid twice, and was defeated for Vice President. He still kept going, and today is remembered as one of our greatest presidents.

Along with Lincoln, Goethe, Luther, Tolstoy, Churchill, Newton, Kafka and many other great individuals have battled with depression throughout their lives. Rather than roll over and give up, they have fought it, even when it tried to bring them down to their knees. We recognize these names because they contributed great things to literature, politics, leadership, religion and science. In short, they didn't allow themselves to become defeated by their setbacks, and nor should we.

You see, there may be a very good purpose why we go through bad things. We may have something to learn. We might need to find someone better, or become better ourselves.

There may be a hundred reasons why we are better because of what we've been through -- but we're never going to know those reasons unless we put our problems behind us, deal with the challenges in our lives, put some hope in our hearts, a smile on our face, and a spring in our step.

We need to live, no matter what we've gone through in the past, or what we're going through right this very instant.

We need to keep growing, keep loving, keep caring, keep learning, and keep helping others who need to learn this one lesson: It doesn't really matter where you've been in life -- it only matters where you're going.

So -- where are you going?

And now, a personal note: This Thursday, August 23, my sweet wife Judy and I will have been married for four wonderful years. She has brought me more happiness and joy than I ever have known, and is a beacon of hope to my life and many others around her.

You see, sometimes the things we thought were bad were actually blessings in disguise. Bad marriages give way to great ones; bad jobs give way to wonderful careers; layoffs help us figure out what we want from life.

What matters is what we do with our lives, (and who we live our lives with).

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