How many times do we encounter challenging situations in our work or personal life and complain our way through them, because we perceive them as hard, painful or difficult? Pretty often, right? All you have to do is overhear a few conversations in a coffee shop, or scroll down your social media feed, to see how readily we complain about our latest troubles.
Sometimes, chance and randomness do come to bear on our lives in a way that is truly negative and harmful. But more often than not, “bad” things actually provide good opportunities to learn something about ourselves, improve or expand our skillset, or become more versatile and resilient.
When plants wither it’s all too easy to look at them and think that they look ugly, dried out and dead. But if they’re a perennial, sure enough, next spring they’re going to be beautiful, full of color and covered in flowers again. So many times we look at something in our life from a similarly short-sighted viewpoint.
In our impatience, we don’t recognize that, yes, something has happened in our life that has caused a certain plant to wither. But once the seasons change, it’s going to flourish once more. Or perhaps new seeds will have been sown without us knowing it, and a new and beautiful shrub will bloom in another part of the garden.
I’ve seen such things happen in the life of my oldest daughter recently. She loved her job as a county attorney, but didn’t get reelected. This surprising event knocked her down for a while, because she had so much invested in what she was doing.
At first she told me that, in this time of bitter disappointment, she felt like a failure as she moved back home. I told her that we only fail if we don’t try our best. She had given it everything, so it wasn’t failure at all.
Now she has turned her talents in another direction, steadied herself, and used the tenacity she developed as a county attorney to start her own legal practice. This would never have happened if she hadn’t been forced out of her comfort zone, or had allowed a setback to crush her spirit.
Miracles often only happen in hindsight. Sometime this week I encourage you to spend a few minutes thinking back over what’s happened in your career and life over the past five or 10 years. Yes, there will be some painful things and maybe some unpleasant memories. But if you look for patterns and connections between events I bet you’re also going to see how circumstances came together to help you grow, learn a valuable lesson, or improve a skill.
Be thankful for this and for the challenges that led to these developments. And when the next situation that you immediately perceive as a problem comes along— and it will— try to reframe it as an opportunity, recognizing that it’s too early to see the opportunity that it likely presents. This will allow you to be more positive in the now, more hopeful for the future, and more open to the “teaching moments” that life gives us, if only we’re willing to learn from them.