“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” – Richard Bach
If your inquisitive nephew gets into the china cabinet and knocks over your Royal Copenhagen glass vase, you’re going to find a thousand pieces of shattered glass scattered across your living room floor.
A summer wildfire that burns down your apartment will leave soot, a blackened structure, and ashes that were once priceless belongings and memories.
And when you hit that dead end while driving, you can’t keep going.
Broken glass, ashes, dead ends—there’s something so hopeless and melancholy about each of them. A place that’s used up, burnt up, broken forever. A place where you can’t go any further.
So it is with the dead ends in our lives.
My dead end.
Without question, my personal dead end was the ending of a relationship and a divorce less than three years ago.
This soul-crushing life event cut like glass, burnt like fire, and made me feel like I had nowhere else to go.
I felt that it was my greatest failure because I couldn’t be the man and the husband I wanted to be. I wasn’t able to find ways to adjust, compromise more, or grow up quickly enough to make our marriage work.
I felt horrible for letting her down. Letting her family down. Letting my family down.
And I felt helpless in a situation that I had absolutely no control over anymore. The events that were unfolding were completely out of my hands.
The days that came after separation were suffocating, breathless, and paralyzing.
I mourned in this unimaginable place of grief and sadness that was slowly becoming my reality.
Hope in shattered glass, burnt ashes, and dead-end roads.
Each day, I did the only things that I could: wake up, get dressed, go to work, and make it through the day.
I cried at night. I cried in the daytime. I cried in my office. I cried in the car. I cried when I heard Adele on the radio. She seemed to be haunting me, “Someone Like You” playing incessantly on every station. “Sometimes it lasts in love. But sometimes, it hurts instead.”
My journey back has been a long and arduous one—working through pain, hurt, grief, sadness, sorrow, loss, and a personal ground zero.
It was a journey that took me through anger, hatred, resentment, frustration, and hopelessness.
It was a journey that led me toward forgiveness, letting go of the past, letting go of the bitterness, letting go of grudges, and choosing to move forward. It was a journey that reminded me that second acts are possible and that our lives can be rebuilt from the ground up. It was a journey to my better self. A journey to my higher self.
Without any doubt, my divorce was the absolute lowest point in my life. Yet, strangely, I will never exchange that experience for anything else.
Although the path I walked was filled with pain and struggle, the experience of having gone through this life-crushing change also resulted in some of the greatest gifts that I could have possibly received. Gifts that have built up my character, perspective, and resilience for life. Gifts that have helped me grow as a person and have transformed my life forever.
Here are eight gifts that you, too, can give yourself no matter how bad of a hand life has dealt you:
1. The gift of resilience.
You can make it through the darkest and loneliest trenches in the world and come out alive. You can stand up again, you can move forward again, no matter how much pain, struggle, or hurt you’re experiencing.
You can continue when the path is pitch dark. Trust yourself and be guided by your intuition. Although you might not feel like you’re doing very much today, do something. Get out of bed. Take the smallest step. Just wake up and do something to move yourself forward. Believe that things will get better and know that circumstances have always gotten better in your life.
Know that once you make it out of this difficult situation, not too many other things in life can shake you.
2. The gift of becoming a better person.
My divorce inspired me to improve myself.
When you’re on the outs and you’ve been personally rejected in something as intimate as a relationship, you start to wonder not only what went wrong with your relationship, but what’s holding you back in life.
You might be doing things in your life that are preventing you from becoming your best self. You could be playing life too small. It doesn’t matter if you lack confidence, procrastinate, are fueled by anger, or have a general unease with life.
You can change whatever is holding you back.
It takes awareness, a desire to improve, knowledge, and practical steps toward making change. You can use everything from books, courses, and coaches to self-awareness and mindfulness practices to help you understand yourself better and make the necessary changes in your life.
3. The gift of forgiveness.
I was upset about the divorce, and it was easy for me to blame everyone involved: myself, her, my family, her family, the family astrologer, and anyone in between.
But what I’ve learned is that you can forgive no matter how hard it is, and that your true healing will begin once you let go of resentments and grudges. You can pull out the dagger of hate that’s stuck in your body.
You can take responsibility for what happened and let go of the parts that you had nothing to do with.
Set the intention to forgive. Write a letter of forgiveness to each person who has hurt you and release the poisonous resentment within. Tear up the letter if you must, but send it if you can.
You will feel a million pounds lighter and freer after you forgive in your heart.
4. The gift of vulnerability.
When you’re torn down, fallen down, and beaten up, you’ll realize that there’s nothing more to hide behind. At your low point, you’ll hopefully stop giving a hoot about what people think of you.
Embrace the place you’re at no matter how rock bottom it is. There’s nothing wrong with tough times, and no one is going to laugh at you when you’ve fallen. Instead, you’ll find that almost everyone can relate to you because they’ve also found themselves in difficult life situations, or are currently going through similar life trials.
Learn to step forward and embrace who you are. You can stop hiding.
Now is the time to be honest with others, but also with yourself. Come to terms with the emotions and feelings that you’re experiencing. Be aware of your feelings and acknowledge them.
Start on your journey toward self-acceptance and self-love; speak to yourself more gently, treat yourself with more compassion, and learn to accept yourself for who you are.
5. The gift of a renewed purpose.
“Sometimes in tragedy we find our life’s purpose. The eye sheds a tear to find its focus.”
– Robert Brault
Being on the outs helped me clarify what I should be doing with my life. Since I had nothing to lose, I chose to follow my lifelong dream of writing, coaching, and helping others overcome adversity in their own lives.
When in a rough spell, all the trivial and unimportant things in your life will fall away. You’ll gain insight and clarity, and feel a strong inner calling to do something with your life. What you previously felt was important will no longer matter.
Instead of chasing material things and money, find out what truly makes you happy. What matters to you? What has always inspired you and brought you joy in your life or work? Simply do more of that.
Once you discover your purpose, you can go about trying to make it happen. In the process of discovering and experimenting with things that interest you, you’ll get a clearer picture of why you’re here in this world.
6. The gift of self-understanding.
While I had grown up in a religious household and was drawn to spirituality throughout my life, nothing prepared me for an internal journey to myself like this experience did. All the books, talks, and classes that I had taken while growing up suddenly became very real.
Hard times can inspire you to start looking for deeper and more meaningful answers about life: Why are you here? What are you meant to do? What is your purpose? What brings you joy?
Are you open to exploring the spiritual world? (And no, you don’t have to move to Tibet or join a Gregorian monastery to do so.) Can you be open to the possibility that mindfulness can lead to more self-awareness and, ultimately, more peace?
Dedicate some time to go within. Create a few more silent moments in your life. Spend some time self-reflecting, breathing mindfully, or trying out a yoga class. Find more appreciation in the natural world; walk in the woods, stop and take in the sunset, appreciate the beauty around you. Take an art or photography class. Write.
7. The gift of change.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – The Serenity Prayer
While working as a lawyer in my past life, I realized that I could limit much of the risk in the world. However, I also discovered that, in real life, you can’t control the world around you.
You can fight the rough patches in your life either by resisting them or by learning to accept and embrace them. Yes, you can take action and improve a situation, but only if you learn to accept that situation in the first place. Accepting that we can’t control everything and that thunderstorms will roll into our lives helps us become stronger people.
Instead of resisting change, lean into change. What lessons are you learning? How are you growing as a person? How will adapting and managing your current circumstances help you confront other changes in your life?
8. The gift of learning to let go.
After wallowing in the misery of divorce for a couple of years, I decided that I had had enough of replaying the past pain in my life. I came upon the teachings in Eckhart Tolle’s book Power of Now.
Tolle reminded me, “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.” Imagine that you’re exactly where you need to be in life and that life contains no mistakes.
You do not have to toil in your past. Every time your thoughts get caught up in the past, realize that you’re slipping back to a time that no longer exists. Realize that what has passed has passed and commit to preventing past battle wounds from scarring you repeatedly.
Tolle reminds you to observe the emotional pain that resides within you and to become an observer of your thoughts and feelings. Being consciously present allows you to live more in the moment.
Stop sabotaging yourself. Be more aware of what you’re experiencing internally and learn to let go of the past.
Once I realized the many gifts that I’d been given, I came to appreciate how my lowest point had transformed my life. When I was experiencing the heartbreak and pain of divorce, I never realized that the process of divorce would overhaul everything about me.
My low point was my catalyst to breaking through those things that were holding me back.
When you’re facing the rough waves of life, ask yourself: Who is the person you want to become? What changes will you make in life? What will you do with your lifelong dreams and life purpose?
Your rock bottom isn’t the end of the world.
You can buy another glass vase. You can rebuild your home from the ground up. You can turn the car around.
You can appreciate the pain and suffering that you’ve had to face. Learn to see the gifts in your struggles.
Your greatest challenges may just be the path to your greatest self.