I was offered a job when I was 28 that would have basically eliminated financial concerns for the rest of my life.
The job was 500 miles away, and ultimately, I had to turn it down.
I had dared to dream of a life where I was never again worried about how a bill would get paid. The future would not be: “How will I afford to send my kids to college?” but rather “Do I want to go drink wine in Tuscany or the south of France next month?”
I got sucked in.
Money for nice clothes. All my dream cars. The kick-ass inground pool and outdoor bar and kitchen I’d always wanted.
Then, poof. Gone. Not happening.
And all the sudden, my very decent car seemed like a massive piece of shit.
My very decent home seemed wholly inadequate.
My wardrobe? Ugh.
Those goddamn bills? Maddening.
The not-amused Universe started delivering messages, one at a time.
Message #1: You don’t know how good you have it.
I lost my newspaper reporting job on Dec. 31, 2009 as part of another round of corporate layoffs. I’d hold my one-year-old son—just watching him. How will I provide?
My wife went to work, dressed to kill, and exceptional at the work she does.
She’d come home. I’d be watching Yo Gabba Gabba with my son in sweatpants and a t-shirt. I must have seemed like the biggest loser imaginable. I was unemployed for 18 months. I finally felt real financial hardship. I finally learned that we are not guaranteed employment in this life. I finally learned that having a very decent home and driving a very decent car in a very decent town isn’t such a bad thing. I learned that having a good job is not something to complain about or take for granted.
Message #2: Money won’t help you.
About 18 months after losing my job, and after a decent run writing freelance copy from home, I was offered my current job as a writer in the internet marketing department of a reasonably large company. We do good work. It’s a very pleasant, professional working environment. I’m good at my job. Seem to be liked and appreciated. And I’m paid much more than I was as a news reporter.
Suddenly, we were prospering financially. Whew.
A few weeks later, we had a death in the family and my marriage totally fell apart.
No dollar amount could save us.
Message #3: Inner peace and happiness is what we should be chasing.
She left me.
My son was gone half the time. And I totally lost it.
And I learned my most-important life lesson so far. NOTHING is more important to our individual human experience, than feeling peace and contentment. (I like the word “happiness” which I incorrectly use in place of “contentment,” which is what I really mean.)
When you can’t even sit quiet and still because of fear, stress and anxiety, you’re left with almost nothing.
Trillions of dollars and exotic vineyards can’t save you. With every breath, you wonder whether you’ll ever feel like yourself again. It’s hard when we deal with change. Even small ones.
When you actually lose yourself? When you don’t know the person in the mirror and are afraid you’ll never find them again? I’m not sure I’ve ever known fear like that.
And that’s when I knew: There are few things in this life that really matter. And so much of what I’d been chasing is not on that list.
I’ll never ask for hardships. I’ll never hope for trials and tribulations. I’ll never revel in tragedy.
But I have been thinking: What if I could learn how to embrace obstacles and life challenges, knowing I’m going to come out a better person?
When my wife left, I thought I might lose my house. I was afraid of adding more drastic change to my life. I was afraid of what people would think. I was afraid of losing my home.
The same house I resented when I thought I should be living in something more elaborate.
The same house I didn’t think was good enough for me.
When I was thinking one way, the house brought me misery. Now that I’m thinking another way, the house fills me with joy, comfort and gratitude.
Can that same phenomenon be accomplished with the hardships we face?
Of course it can. If we’re brave enough to not be victims. If we’re courageous enough to embrace growth opportunities. If we’re strong enough to take on all comers knowing defeat doesn’t come easily.
If I can find a way to not blame the world and other people for my life circumstances—to look at obstacles as they arrive and relish the challenges—I believe this life can be incredibly fulfilling.
Bad shit is going to happen no matter what. No matter what.
And we have two choices: Be afraid. Or embrace opportunity.
With mind tricks, really. With psychology. With perspective.
Tough challenges make me stronger.
Hard times make me wiser.
Moments of fear make me braver.
And I want those things. I want those things for me and for you.
Strong. Wise. Brave.
Courtesy of life, just, happening.
Turning bad things into good things.
Turning darkness into light.