College applications and job interviews. High school graduation, caps flying jubilantly through the air. First day of college, or a new job, or military service.
When we’re young, if we’ve been lucky enough to have stability and some sense of love in our lives, we start out so hopeful. Then, we figure out that life rarely goes according to our perfect plans. Life unfolds in ways we never expected, and it can be challenging and sometimes discouraging.
I’ve been thinking about how arbitrary it seems at times. How, if I look back at my own life, I can see how one small, seemingly insignificant choice, led to a series of events, the outcome of which I never could have imagined at the start.
For me, it was as random as a college choice and choosing to go out with a friend on a night when I was broke, (the friend paid) when I just wanted to stay home and instead ended up at a small club in another city. Do you remember The House that Jack Built? It’s a children’s story, and it works in layers. If it was about my life, it would go something like this:
This is the life that I built. This is the night I went to the club where I met the man who moved me to Georgia where we had two children. Then, we got divorced. Then, I chased a dream that brought joy to the life that I built.
Everything is circular and connected. So, all those things that seemed arbitrary, maybe they were…and maybe they weren’t.
I don’t want to have a philosophical or theological discussion on fate or predestination. I just need to remember that where one thing didn’t work out, another did. And, some of the things that came into my life were better than what I had wished for myself.
This got me thinking about three lessons we should remember so we don’t get discouraged by the twists and turns of life:
- Things won’t always go our way (relationships, education, jobs, kids), and not everyone will agree with our choices (or love us/want to be our friend/feel the same way).
- We don’t have to like it. (We are entitled to whatever feelings we have about any given situation. That’s 100 percent okay. No one said we had to enjoy losing a job, or having a broken heart, or losing a loved one, or being disappointed by something.
- We still get to choose the way we live. We choose our attitudes. Our perceptions. Our reactions or responses. Our next move. The kind of lives we live. How we treat others. How we treat ourselves. How we give back to others, or don’t. How we love, or hate. How we spend our time. How we teach others through our words and actions. What we believe.
These are powerful concepts, and they can be applied to nearly any situation. If we think back on plot twists in our own lives, we can remember how things didn’t go our way and not everyone agreed with us. We had whatever feelings about it, and we still got to choose.
Do we sometimes make poor choices? (My daughter would say “poor choices” with a melancholy voice and a thumbs down, as she’s been taught by her wonderful teachers.) Sure, we do. Do we learn from them? If we’re lucky, we do. If we’re paying attention, we can absorb the lesson and let that stay with us longer than whatever pain the experience caused us.
If this sounds like the voice of experience, that’s because it is. I’d love to say smugly that I learned this by going with the flow of life and accepting everything with calm and aplomb. But, if I said that, I would be a dirty, rotten liar. Because I have no chill. And, I don’t easily accept difficult life changes. I have held on too many times, kicking and screaming, when I should have let go.
The past hurts still hurt me if I think of them, even the things and people I’ve come to peace with and processed, simply because my memories of who I was and how I felt then are still so vivid.
So I know these three things, not because I’ve made all the best choices or lived the most fabulous existence, but because I’ve tried and lost and grieved, and tried again. Some of the lessons I learned took many similar experiences before I finally got the message. They were hard-learned and hard-won, and they hurt, even as they made me stronger.
I’ve come to a point in my life where my quest for courage and for raw, deep, unrelenting authenticity has pushed me to share my story in the hope it makes someone else’s struggle just the tiniest bit easier, or at least provides a little light at the end of a tunnel. Every time I tell my story, I heal a little more.
That healing is also painful—just like our bodies experience pain when we break them and then re-knit into something resembling wholeness. But, it’s also wondrous and beautiful, and I come out of the hurt of the healing knowing that it’s always the right thing to take our own darkness and find a way to turn it into light, both for ourselves and others.
So, as we make our way in the world, we can remember these lessons. And we don’t have to like it. That’s allowed. But we get to choose what we’re going to do about it and how we’re going to live.
Maybe life is arbitrary. I haven’t the faintest idea. But I look back on the small choices, and it reminds me that every choice we make can have far-reaching effects we can scarcely imagine. And, I hope it makes me kinder and braver.
I hope it can do that for you, too.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron