One of the unexpected (duh!) ways we’re finding our journey meaningful is the way things don’t go by our plans, and how we might deal with these setbacks. We’ve written about a few of them here, and no doubt will continue to share our “failures” as we make our way around. But today, I want to share some personal, heartfelt stories from four of our collaborators and friends. Enjoy, use these tips if you are facing difficult choices now—or store them away for future use. And I hope you will follow the links and learn more about each of these extraordinary people and their unique journeys.
Life never goes as we expect or want. If it did, it would actually be pretty boring. The thing is, it’s an adventure, and it’s a chance–and it’s not the same for everyone. When something goes completely haywire or unexpected, ask yourself if there’s something in this particular adventure that’s worth learning, and whether or not there’s still something you can be thankful for. I think each adventure is a teacher, and we can learn from everything that comes our way.
In my life, I’ve been fortunate to have experienced some very wonderful highs and some pretty deep lows. I learned more about myself and my resolve–and my tenacity–when things were going wrong, and each setback reminded me of how thankful and grateful (and happy) I am when things go well. It’s not an either-or; most of the time, we have both.
In 2009, I lost a rib (it was taken out of my body), I got engaged, and then my fiance broke up with me. To call it a difficult year is putting it mildly. It took me through a spin cycle of emotions—many of which were incredibly difficult to deal with at the time—but through the process I found incredible clarity about who I am, what I really love, and what I wanted to do. I realized how much I love movement and swimming, how important going after my dreams is, and that I only really get one chance at life, so I better spend it wisely. Now that I have a few years of perspective, I’m so grateful for how everything turned out.
Sarah Kathleen Peck,
Writer, Designer and Storyteller.
Stay positive. Know that positivity is a choice, and regularly make those tiny choices in your brain to focus on the good stuff. Every setback is an opportunity in one way or another, and it’s always an opportunity to learn positivity in the face of disappointment or pain. Focus on what you can gain from the situation, not on what you originally wanted. This doesn’t mean the setback will be easy, but you will grow from it, and positive growth is solid gold.
Around fall/winter 2011-2012, I hit a major wall with my work. I felt small and frustrated, unsure of where I was headed with my career and unmotivated to do much work at all. What I wanted was a specific step towards building a new online company, but I didn’t have a specific step yet. I’d built so many different sites from ideas, and didn’t stick with any of them. I wasn’t sure if I was even the kind of person that could stick with a single big project for years.
Frustrated, I decided to focus on what I definitely could get from the situation. First, I focused on amping my connection. I built my online presence, focused on friendships both online and in person, and started a Meetup group (where I met Akira & Dipika, yay! :). Next, I focused on fitness, thinking that I might as well be focusing on my goal of being more fit during my career uncertainty. So, I started training for a half marathon (which sounded totally crazy then), toned up, and formed the habit of regularly running and preparing for races.
While I wasn’t getting to do what I thought I really wanted to do, in retrospect I was building a strong, necessary foundation for what I wanted. Today, I have an online company I’m positively in love with. I’ve been obsessed with Critter.Co since Spring 2012. From the connections I made earlier, I have invaluable business partners, and fantastic support for my new business. My fitness habits give me crucial energy for my business. It turns out I am that kind of person I wanted to be, I just needed some key ingredients first. Everything works out, focus on how you are ready to grow! 🙂
Katie Benedetto Jones,
My ultimate tip is to keep scanning. When a location or connection has fallen through this year, I have continually chosen to take a deep breath and immediately begin looking for the next open door. If one situation hasn’t panned out, that means there must be an even more fitting opportunity heading my way.
In April, I had originally intended to go to Sicily, but when that didn’t work because of fundraising and plane ticket glitches, I ended up at the last minute deciding to go to the Dominican Republic on a quick recommendation from a friend. That jaunt ended up being an unexpectedly pivotal shift in the direction of the project and showed me how quickly I could be accepted into a community. Then in August, I had planned to go from Beijing to Cambodia, but after visa troubles, I ended up taking the train down to Hong Kong instead. And wow, the friends I have made here have nurtured me in ways I had no idea I needed.
The universe has a way of shutting a door on us when we move too quickly and need a shift in perspective, even when we don’t realize it.
Catherine J Howard,
Visual Culture Documentarian
Take tiny steps. Change course when necessary. Keep moving.
The biggest setback I’ve faced so far came at the tail end of my 20’s with my first big loss. In the clarity that mortality brings, I saw that I had built a lifestyle and career that was clearly meant for someone else. The resulting course correction, complete with climbing out of debt, downsizing and discovering work that I loved, took nearly a decade.
I took it step by step – and found a lot of satisfaction in the process of moving forward and changing course when needed – even if I didn’t know where I was heading. I followed my interests to see where they would lead. I started doing physical challenges to raise money for cancer research. Eventually I questioned my purpose in doing them and stopped, but the need to do something meaningful stuck. I researched nursing schools and took pre-requisites. I loved the coursework and psychology especially, but when I learned to knit, I left it behind. I found creative fulfillment documenting the intersections of craft, creativity and making meaning. My partner and I planted a garden and thought about homesteading, a farm, sheep. Then we cared for our pets through years of health crises and found that as much as we loved them, we probably wouldn’t choose to take responsibility for the lives of other beings again.
Throughout all this exploration, I found myself depending on my yoga practice. It grounded me through the unknowns and ultimately became the thing that I loved enough to risk leaving my stable job for.
A year ago, we signed the paperwork that released our house to it’s new owners and moved to a tiny studio apartment. This was the result of years of work reducing the impact of our lives and the income required to live it. It would be another six months before I left my job, and that too, came step by step. It helped to know what I was aiming for this time. I took advantage of my income to get more training, furthering my practice and teaching skills. I took on more classes of my own and began developing workshops and programs to make personal practice accessible to others. I recruited my friends and fellow teachers to test out and refine new services. I ran the financials at least 20 times, ensuring that because of the work we had already done, I could afford to leave, when I was ready.
It could easily be hindsight that makes me feel that each of these steps, larger and smaller, were made up of many more. I can examine the trajectory and find the through line, smoothing out what felt like huge leaps at the time. For me, the bigger leaps are possible because of all the tiny steps. Continued effort, trial and error and forward motion built my risk tolerance and skill in navigating my fears, so that when it came time to leap, I had greater confidence in my ability to recover—and thrive—no matter how I land.
Do you have stories of overcoming setbacks or finding creative ways to go around obstacles? Please share in the comments below!