Helen Keller once said: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.” As we navigate through challenging times toward a better future, it’s useful to visit some tried and true ideas regarding life hardiness and resiliency. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather a reminder of some existential ideas we sometimes set aside as we tend to the hectic details of daily life.
1. The power of perspective
Life is not always easy. We all know that. How we choose the way we think, feel, and act in relation to life’s challenges can often make the difference between hope versus despair, optimism versus frustration, and victory versus defeat. With every challenging situation we encounter, ask questions such as “What is the lesson here?”, “How can I learn from this experience?”, “What is most important now?”, and “If I think outside the box, what are some better answers?” The higher the quality of questions we ask, the better the quality of answers we will receive. Ask constructive questions based on learning and priorities, and we can gain the proper perspective to help us tackle the situation at hand.
“I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”
- Thomas A. Edison
2. Don’t focus on the mud
We should learn from the past, but not be stuck in it. Sometimes life circumstances and personal setbacks can haunt and prevent us from seeing our true potential and recognizing new opportunities. What has already happened we cannot change, but what is yet to happen we can shape and influence. At times the first step is simply to break from the past and declare that it is you, not your history, who’s in charge. Ask empowering questions such as “What matters to me now?”, “How can I make a difference in this situation?”, and “What’s the next step for my best interest and well-being?” Every moment we’re alive we can make new choices that help us move on and step toward a better future. If we pay attention to only mud on the ground after a storm, we won’t notice that the sky above us has already cleared. Goethe reminds us: “Nothing is worth more than this day.” Don’t focus on the mud. Make better choices today and move on.
3. All you have to do is ask…the right individuals
In life we sometimes may feel like we’re walking alone, but we don’t have to be as long as we’re honest with ourselves, and ask for help when needed. You can find strength and support through a “board of advisors” you create. These are your “go-to” people when you’re in need of sound advice, a new perspective, a certain expertise, or simply an empathetic ear. Members of the board can include individuals you know whose opinions you respect and character you trust. Your personal B.O.A. can also include your role models from past and present, historical or fictional. Ask, for example: “What would (role model A) say about my situation?”, or “What would (role model B) do if she were in my shoes?” Asking for help is not the same as complaining. Habitual complainers dwell on what’s wrong. Successful people assume responsibility for finding the support they need to solve the problem.
“Normal people have problems. The smart ones get help.”
- Daniel Amen
4. Thrive on your strengths while exploring new potential
We each have certain dispositions in which we naturally excel. Some of us are great with people, others are handy with tools, yet others thrive on information. A mismatch between what you’re naturally good at and your work in life is wasted potential. There are a myriad of assessment tools available that can help you determine your natural strengths, as well as your areas of greatest potential. For more information regarding this point, request a copy of my article Follow Your Bliss: Discover Your True Calling in Life.
“When you follow your bliss… doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.”
- Joseph Campbell
5. Keep the fun and enjoyment
Van Wilder from the movie of the same name said: “You shouldn’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out alive.” No matter how difficult the circumstances, resolve to keep the fun and enjoyment in your life. Make a point to take a “mini-vacation” everyday; be it walking in the park, exercising, hugging a loved one, or taking a nice, hot bath. The more challenging and stressful life is, the more important it is to take good care of yourself so you can relax your body, ease your mind, and rejuvenate your spirit. After recharging your batteries, you may see the same situation in a different, more positive light.
6. Keep your options open
There are many paths to opportunity, success, and happiness. We can begin by asking ourselves what true success and happiness means and looks like to us, and let our answers show the way. When one path seems to be at a dead end, look another way and see what new openings may be waiting just around the corner. Options can come from consulting the aforementioned board of advisors, thinking outside the box, daring to dream, doing something different, or simply letting go of a habit or condition that has clearly outlived its usefulness. We’re never stuck unless we have blinders on. Keep your options open.
“We must dare to think ‘unthinkable’ thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world.”
- James W. Fulbright
7. Keep the faith
There are many ways to keep your faith alive: Faith in yourself, faith in your place in this world, and faith in answers the Universe has in store for you. Go to places and engage in activities that give you the greatest feeling of inner peace. When you give yourself this gift on a regular basis, what psychologists call the Higher Self emerges, as insights, inspiration, and a sense of deep knowing spring forth from the depth of your soul.
The following quote by Anne Frank is just one example: “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature.”
As you immerse yourself in peace, ask: “What if what I’m going through is a blessing in disguise? What greater purpose exists for me now?” Put forth these and any other constructive questions that come straight from your heart. Don’t try to figure out the answers during these moments, but rather “empty your mind” and let the solutions come to you. The answers may come at that moment or later: sometimes when the time is right; sometimes when you least expect them. All you have to do is hold the questions and pay attention.
Keep the faith. Find your peace within, and the answers will come!
8. Resolve to never, ever give up
I once heard a courageous person say that there are no losers in life, except for those who give up on themselves. If you’re still alive and breathing, your purpose in this life time is not yet fulfilled. The great adventure is in discovering what that purpose is, and to live it until your last breath. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably being pulled by an inner calling to do more. That calling is your adventure waiting to happen. What are you waiting for? And what are you willing to do now?
“Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections, failed twice in business and suffered a nervous breakdown before he became the president of the United States.”
- Wall Street Journal
“If you don’t have the capacity to change yourself and your own attitudes, then nothing around you can be changed.”
- Anwar Sadat
“The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.”
- Helen Keller
“Whom do you think creates your experience of life?”
Preston Ni is a professor of communication studies, Fortune 500 trainer, executive coach, and organizational change consultant. Write to Preston at firstname.lastname@example.org, and access free resources at www.nipreston.com. © 2009 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved.