Monday, December 30, 2019

Adversity: A new New Year’s wish


In case you haven’t noticed, we’re about to start a new decade! I’m sure your social media timelines are filled with wishes for what this decade will bring. To be honest, I personally had not thought much about it until last week. But, what I’m hoping for in the new year and in the new decade might just be different – and might just be more likely to come true – than most of the wishes that you’ll hear, so I wanted to share.

At this time last year, I had the opportunity to contribute on PhD Balance, and I decided to write about adversity. You can read my story here, and the main point is that the things I’ve accomplished in my life are not despite adversity, but rather because of it. I had no idea how much more I would come to appreciate that over this last year.

When I wrote that post, things were going almost perfectly. And, 2019 has indeed been one of the most exciting years of my life, filled with many fun and unexpected opportunities that have taken me places in my career that I never imagined. However, without realizing it, I had slipped into a mindset that said “Sure, I got to where I am because of all of those challenges, but now I get to enjoy smooth sailing from here on out.” Wrong. I had fallen into the fallacy that whatever is happening right now will keep happening into the future. Worse, I had started thinking that I had “paid my dues” and had now earned the right to have things be easy. A key lesson that life has taught me is that as soon as you think you’re entitled to something, you’re already on the path toward losing it.

Things did keep going well…for a while. Then, something happened that turned this fall into one of the hardest seasons of the last decade. As you might guess from the paragraph above, I did not handle it well at first. Despite knowing how much I’ve gained in the past from walking through adversity, I went into this struggle kicking and screaming. Thinking about how unfair it was that I had to deal with this. Hadn’t I paid my dues? Didn’t I deserve to have a year where I could enjoy all of the exciting things that were happening in my life? Shouldn’t I get to feel confident and happy, not afraid and alone?

Alone. That is where the story changes. Every time I started to feel alone, I realized that I was not. I realized that I was in fact surrounded by people who care about me and who support me. They couldn’t make the situation go away, but they could offer strength for me to keep walking through it. And I did. I still cried at times, but I rarely cried alone.

I’m thankful to be able to say that things are now getting better. Similar to going out for a run on a beautiful day and then being caught by a surprise downpour, I’m still running and I’m still soaking wet, but the clouds are parting and I can feel the warm sun on my face again. And, the holiday break has offered the perfect reprieve to unpack and think through all that has happened over the past few months and how I have grown as a result.

First lesson learned – adversity never goes away. No matter what we make it through, we never earn the right to evade future struggles. It’s great to enjoy the times when things are going well, but putting hope in the idea that it will continue that way is a guaranteed path to disappointment.

Second lesson learned – adversity always has something new to teach us. I will never hit a point where I can walk through every day of my life being the person that I really want to be. However, if I’m willing to learn from adversity, I can come out of each struggle more humble, compassionate, and confident – caring more about the people in my life and worrying less what the rest of the world thinks about me.

Third lesson learned – what adversity takes from us in comfort, it gives back in relationships. While having things go well is a gift, the even bigger gift is the friendships forged and strengthened in times of struggle. I’m convinced that the value of my life will not be measured in awards or accomplishments, but in relationships. Adversity reminds us that we’re not alone – that there are people in this world who we love and who love us back, who we can lean on in difficult times and who we will hopefully have the privilege of supporting in return.

I was texting last week with a close friend who has had a front row seat to much of my struggle over the past few months. As I was about to say something like “Hoping that 2020 brings better days,” it struck me that that’s not actually what I’m hoping for. Adversity is not something that we can prevent. As I pondered this point, I realized that my actual New Year’s wish is not for a lack of adversity, but rather for what can be found in it. So, as we head into a new year and a new decade, my wish for all of us is this:

When adversity inevitably comes our way, may we grow in ourselves and grow in our relationships, and in doing so find the richness that life has to offer.

Happy New Year!

25 comments:

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