I started reading through things I’d written in past years Aprils to try and remind myself of what my Aprils used to be like before this pandemic. Ironically, the first thing I flipped to was an article I’d written back in April of 2013 that was published in Forbes, and when you read what I’d written you’ll see why it was ironic. Let’s just say it stopped my little pity party dead in it tracks today. Here’s the article:
We all go through difficult times. Whether it’s not getting a desired job, dealing with a difficult coworker, struggling to get along with a boss, hurting financially, coping with health problems, or nursing a damaged relationship, we all have to face adversity and trials in our lives. Sometimes the struggles we go through are the result of choices we made, and sometimes they are the result of consequences that were completely beyond our control. Regardless of the cause, no trial we experience or pain we suffer should be wasted. Trials can educate us; they can build our character and help us develop patience, humility, and strength if we choose to let them.
A few years ago I heard a speech given by a 20-something young woman who had grown up without her sight or hearing. She underwent surgery in high school to have a cochlear implant, which partially restored her hearing and helped her to more effectively communicate her story. She is still totally blind. As she shared her life story with us, she asked us to close our eyes and to imagine a world where all we saw was darkness, no color, no light. She asked us to imagine how depressing that would feel. With eyes still closed, she asked that this time we imagine our world with color and light and joy. She then stated, “The second picture you imagined is what I choose to see every day.” Then she asked us to open our eyes. She proceeded to share with us that she had a choice in life, “to be sad and depressed and see only darkness, or to be happy and joyful and see color and light.” She stated that she was able to make the choice.
She acknowledged that many times it is easy in life to focus on our trials by saying, “I often think that many of us count our blessings on our fingers and toes, but count our trials with a calculator.” That statement is all too true. She shared that many of us spend our lives thinking “Why me? Why is my life hard? Why am I having to struggle? Why do I have to suffer loss? Why, why, why?”
I was totally caught off guard by the words that came out of her mouth next. “I too, wake up each day and ask ‘Why me? Why am I so lucky to have ten fingers and ten toes? Why am I so lucky to have people that love me? Why am I so lucky to be able to walk? Why am I so blessed?’” WOW! That was all I could think in that moment. Just wow! She closed her talk by reminding us that “all of us are given trials to make us better, not to make us bitter.”
Hearing her story was humbling beyond belief. I myself have been guilty at times of thinking “Why me?” in that “poor me” kind of way. And yet, here was this girl who had significantly harder challenges she was coping with and she was calling herself the lucky one. It hit home in a way that is hard to describe and reminded me that we all have a choice in the way we view our lives. We can say “Why me?” in a “poor me” way, or we can say “Why me?!” in an “I’m so blessed” way.
When hard times come, we can always make the choice to feel sorry for ourselves and become bitter. We always have that choice. But as the young woman in the story reminds us, we always have another choice as well. We have the choice to see the light and joy in life rather than allowing ourselves to focus on the dark. We have the choice to learn from our trials, allowing them to refine our character and help us become a stronger, more charitable person. We have the choice to be grateful, choosing to be joyful, and seeing the color and light that blesses our life. We all have the choice to say “Why Me?! Why am I so blessed?”
Throughout my life, I have been amazed at the strength of the people I have been surrounded by. I have watched as people have overcome trials that I couldn’t possibly imagine facing. I had one employee whose wife has been on death’s door for many years. I had another employee whose young daughter struggled through years of chemotherapy to battle cancer. I had another employee who suffered the loss of her small baby. The list goes on and on. Each of these employees overcame his or her struggle with grace and humility, setting an example just like the young woman I heard speak.
We are so much more capable than we ever give ourselves credit for. Each of us has it within us to overcome whatever trials are placed in our path. And though they are not fun and we would rather avoid them, we have to remember that our greatest growth in life will never come from times of ease and comfort. Our greatest growth will come from those times we choose to overcome the adversity and allow our trials to make us better.
~Amy Rees Anderson (author of the newly released book “What Awesome Looks Like: How To Excel in Business & Life” )