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January 1, 2016

When Sh*t Hits the Fan, Do you Sink or Swim?

Photo of author: Jessica Winterstern (Not for re-use)

Life is unpredictable in nature—I know this.

And yet, I still get angry when things don’t go my way—losing myself to a particular moment and blaming the situation or the person for how I feel.

The truth is, I cannot control any situation or person, no matter how hard I try. I can get close and convince myself that I have figured it out, but life has the power to sweep in at any moment and change the game on me.

It’s not about what happens, but what I do in that moment, that matters most. Because what I do have control over is how I react to life’s unfolding. I have control over how I confront the people I encounter, the information I receive and the turning of events that seem to happen out of nowhere.

It’s not a competition, and if I treat it as one, I will self-destruct. There is no way to figure out the universe’s unknown formula and beat it, nor is there any way to cheat the ever-changing system. I’ve tried many times.

Instead, I must shift my perspective when being confronted with unexpected adversity. I can fight it all I want—I can run from it or hide from it—but that will only perpetuate my suffering.

The truth is, life is not against me—it is with me. And it doesn’t happen to me, it happens for me.

The inevitable ebbs will wash over me, the bleak moments will find me and the momentary heartache will engulf me. However, I get to control how I show up in these moments, how I receive these experiences and how I choose to overcome them.

I can sink or I can swim—and I choose to swim.

A year ago, elephant journal published my first piece of writing titled, A Letter of Gratitude to the Universe. I still remember the visceral sensation that came over me in receiving the news—gratitude in its most potent form.

Gratitude is the key component in overcoming adversity and swimming through the roughest waters.

Thinking back over the last year, there were endless hills and valleys that I reluctantly trekked—many arduous mountains I somehow climbed, intense oceans I barely swam through and cloudy skies I managed to fly across. I could have given up many times but it was gratitude that got me through all the pandemonium.

I don’t get to pick and choose the moments for which I am grateful—not if I want to experience the depths of true gratitude.

To feel truly grateful, I must feel it for the tiny, insignificant moments—the minor, minute details that usually get missed—for the flower growing out of the concrete that my mother points out to me on a walk in our neighborhood.

I must feel it for the massive experiences that shake the ground beneath my feet and turn my world upside down—for that moment my dream comes true, when Arianna Huffington personally responds to my email, inviting me to write for Huffington Post.

I must feel it for those really sh*tty times—those moments that make me want to give up on life or stay cooped up in bed or cry myself to sleep—for the realization that I must let go of the part of me that still holds on to the hope that my past love will return to me.

I must feel it for those f*cked up situations that make me question absolutely everything in life—for the lessons I get to learn from the horrific disease impacting someone I deeply love.

I must feel grateful for all of it.

We all have a story. We all experience pain and have our particular battle scars and bleeding wounds we need to tend to. Mine may be worse than his and his may be worse than hers and hers worse than all of theirs. However, to compare is to preserve a narrow-minded stance that keeps the suffering going.

Instead, life asks me to accept the given moment and to move from love (as opposed to fear) in facing the cards I have been dealt. Because while I don’t have control over what I am handed, I have the power to change my reality depending on how I choose to encounter it.

I got a phone call yesterday that I had been dreading for almost a month—and I heard the very message that I had been terrified of receiving. As I got off the phone, I had two choices.

I could sink by “catastrophizing” the situation—which would contribute to my own demise through endless negativity, self-wallowing and incessant victimization. Or, I could swim by accepting the moment—breathing through it, feeling all the emotions that arise and being grateful for the lesson I now get to learn.

When I find gratitude in the sorrow, I am able to pull myself out of the abyss, and I can shift that experience. When I do this—despite my inability to control the unfolding of moments—I can change on a molecular level. I can heal myself—emotionally, mentally and physically.

It’s all about perspective.

I see that I have been dealt these cards for a very particular reason—and I choose to swim rather than sink, because now is the time.

It’s the time to speak up and be heard, even when my voice isn’t received—to share the deepest part of my heart and not be afraid of getting hurt. To rise strong and dare greatly, despite the vulnerability it requires—to shine f*cking bright and unapologetically own my worth, especially when sh*t hits the fan. Here and now.

So, in the spirit of the letter I wrote a year ago—I bow to the universe and I say, “Thank you.”

Thank you for the (wake-up) call I received yesterday, and thank you for what I choose to see as a great opportunity for growth and healing. Thank you for this chance to live life wholeheartedly, courageously, and vulnerably.

Here’s to 2016—here’s to choosing to swim.

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Relephant: 

When the Sh*t Hits the Fan: 5 Steps for Survival. 

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Author: Jessica Winterstern

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Laurent Levy, used with permission.

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