Sometimes Life Takes an Unexpected Turn
The Back Story
One of the curious parts of doing executive and life coaching is that while working with clients on their “stuff”, I sometimes have my own “stuff” happening simultaneously. It happened that way this summer. I want to tell you a short personal story about my life taking an unexpected turn and steps I’ve been taking to recover. Learning never ends.
I was having a beautiful summer and then. . .
In late June I received one of those phone calls you never want to get. At 66, my cousin, Judy, unexpectedly passed away. My aunt called to let me know that she was gone. Judy lived in Louisiana (where I was born) and we were close. We talked frequently by phone, and always from our hearts. She was one of the members of my “tribe” — a very special woman who loved me just as I am, imperfections, quirks and all. Her death unsettled me in ways that were difficult for me to process, make sense of and talk about.
On the back of losing Judy, I experienced an unfortunate health issue which frightened and surprised me. At the time, I questioned many things and felt uncertain about myself, my life, my work and the future. Over the summer I felt like a bird with a broken wing, stuck on the ground and unable to forget what it felt like to fly. Simultaneously, I was working and needing to remain responsible and accountable to the people in my life who depend on me to support them in all manner of ways.
Here is some of what I learned. . .
“Taking stock” helps
The events of the summer led me again to “take stock” of my life journey. This included reflecting on where I am, my personal vision for the future and what matters most to me. I am clear on my values and actively work to align my time and commitments with my “big rocks” — my priorities. My health crisis passed and I am well. Though I am still sad about the loss of Judy, I am taking time to work through my thoughts and feelings about her death. With both issues, I am more at peace with what is, and am facing forward again in my life.
So does accepting that we are always in transition
For most of us, change, loss and grief are hard. Even when we experience positive changes, we sometimes yearn for the way things were before. Intellectually we recognize that change, loss and grief are a natural part of life. Still, it is tough to let go of what we have known and to begin again. When we make peace with accepting that transition in life is perpetual, everything tends to get easier.
The Buddhist nun Pema Chodron wrote . . .
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Consequently, I have been working to strengthen my equanimity. . .
By equanimity I mean the ability to take life in stride. Also to remain peaceful even when surrounded by uncertainty and chaos. I like the definition of equanimity I read in a book called Trauma Stewardship. Author Laura van Dernoon Lipsky (with Connie Burk) calls this quality “having space within for everything.” She also wrote that “our internal space must be expansive enough that we can sit with the sorrow in life even as we feel the miracle of it all.”
I had a chance to practice with equanimity yesterday in a quick trip to the grocery store. I arrived joyful because of the birth of our new granddaughter, Calla. Two minutes later the song How to Save a Life came through the store speakers. Hearing it instantly brought great sadness and grief. I associate this song with Will Symonds, who died in 2016 from a heroin overdose. I loved Will as though he was my son. He was 22 and had his whole life ahead of him.
So there I was, simultaneously feeling great joy about the birth of Calla, and great sadness about the death of Will. I stood in the store and considered this duality, recognizing I am a work in progress on equanimity. A hope I hold is to grow my heart large enough to encompass all of what happens in life, and not be undone by it.
And I’ve created a “safety net” with routine and structure
Working as an executive and life coach, trainer and facilitator has made me keenly aware of the importance of self-care. Consequently, I’ve established ongoing habits to support my physical, mental and emotional health. I focus on:
- starting each day with a meditation reading and time for reflection
- getting between 7 – 8 hours of rest each night
- making healthy choices about what I eat and drink
- building time in my schedule for regular exercise
- balancing my work and non-work hours
- surrounding myself with people I trust and enjoy spending time with
- leaving time open for “play” and fun
Five Closing thoughts
As a coach, I hear many stories about client experiences with life taking an unexpected turn. Many of us (myself included!) struggle to recover our balance when life as we know it changes. In conclusion, here are a few thoughts I always share with people I coach and teach.
- Everything passes. Good things, bad things, all things. Hang in there and do your best to keep facing forward.
- Be compassionate with yourself, and also with others.
- Give up trying to be “perfect”. Do your best always, and be a learner. “When we know more, we can do more.” (Marsha Clark)
- Notice what you are feeling. Have a vocabulary for talking about your emotions with someone who is “safe” for you.
- Do your best to stay present and focused on what is here and now. Many people spend lots of time looking backward to make sense of the past. Others spend lots of time looking forward, trying to project the future. Reflecting on the past and future are both useful. However, looking behind us and ahead of us takes our focus away from being present in the moment. Being present to what is “right here, right now” is the only place and time I know where we can take action to make something be different.