“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
– Desmond Tutu
Throughout the past three years, I’ve experienced the most profound darkness in my life.
A relationship that I cared about ended.
A fragile marriage reached its breaking point and unraveled as I came to realize how little control I had over parts of my life.
I lost my partner, grew apart from my family and became increasingly isolated.
I left a legal job. Quit my career in law. And floundered around in the dark, wondering what to do next.
I gave up my permanent address. Moved around the state. Lived with friends and family between jobs.
As the storms of my life raged, I had to ask myself who I was, who I had become and where I was going.
Yes, a soul-shaking series of events had led to a turbulent life crisis.
I had to grieve, reflect, grow and adapt to the changes in my life. While the path contained uncertainty, pain and loneliness, I had to find a way to keep going. I had to find a way out.
Today, I can honestly say that I’m grateful for having experienced this period of darkness in my life.
Because the darkness has brought me to the light I see today.
I realize that my grueling and painful journey has brought me to a place of clarity and happiness.
In my darkest hour, I found myself and my purpose.
And most importantly, this place of confusion and darkness helped me understand and appreciate the light.
Are you going through turbulent times in your life? If you’re facing a breakup, divorce or failed business or frustrating career, read on to learn how you can move forward even when you can’t see any light or hope.
Here are 6 ways to navigate the darkness:
1. Get to know yourself better and be open to internal work.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor E. Frankl
Until we confront a real life-crushing event, we tend to preoccupy ourselves with external circumstances and changes.
Difficult life circumstances give us opportunities to explore our inner lives and do the internal work necessary for us to rise above our challenges. Now is the time for self-understanding and self-awareness.
It’s time to use available tools – from therapy and counseling to spirituality and journaling – to help us better understand ourselves.
Who are you? How do you manage your feelings? How can you heal your pain and let go of the past? How can you shift your perspective and become the person you’re capable of being? How do you live in the present moment?
Look for tools that offer support and healing. Reach out to people who can be there for you and lead the way.
2. Become aware of what doesn’t work.
When you hit a dark place, you receive a gift: you realize what doesn’t work.
You have more insight into yourself than you did before.
What went wrong in your relationship? What was your part in its breakup? What kind of partner is wrong for you? How do you break the cycle of seeking the wrong person as your partner?
What did you hate about the career you left? Which parts of the job were toxic? Which skills did you master and which skills did you want to continue working on? What kind of work do you find fulfilling?
Understanding what doesn’t work is as insightful as knowing what does work. Knowing the dark is critical to appreciating the light.
When you see the futility and hopelessness of a particular path or situation, your mind can create a new path and life.
Remember, as Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
3. One step at a time.
Every day of a personal crisis, breakup or serious life change will be a tough one. If you think about the enormity of the situation, you’ll feel paralyzed and want to stay in bed.
What is one small step you can take today?
How can you move your life in a positive direction in the smallest of ways?
Will you sign up for a new course? Attend a new networking event? Be open to meeting new people?
Ride your bicycle for a few minutes? Get some fresh air?
Don’t think about the global picture; take everything moment by moment.
4. Never give up on yourself.
You’re in a tough spot but you’ve been in similar places before.
You’ve gotten through rough patches and you can do it again.
Sure, your current circumstance may be more challenging than those you faced in the past, but you’ve built up your adversity muscle to deal with changes and setbacks. And you’ve done it again and again.
You believed in yourself when no one else did. You got back up. You found a new job, met someone new in your life, found a way to solve the problem at hand.
You’re a known and proven problem-solver, solution-finder and fighter.
You made it this far, even with the scars and bruises that past troubles inflicted on you. You yourself are the best proof that you’ve done it before and can do it again.
5. Appreciate the dark.
During your most difficult hour, it’s hard to sit back and exercise any amount of gratefulness.
Your heart’s throbbing, your head’s crammed with worries and you don’t know yourself anymore. Why would you ever be grateful for this?
You can learn to appreciate the situation because you are discovering the tools you’ll need to navigate in the dark. If you can keep walking toward the light, you’ll develop qualities that will help you resist life’s challenges.
When you walk in the dark, you develop the qualities of persistence, patience, discovery and navigation. Sure, you won’t know where you are, but you’ll start getting a better sense of the darkness and will eventually navigate your way around.
Your greatest gift in the dark is your newfound abilities to embrace change, persist and keep going. These skills you’ll have with you for the rest of your life.
6. The dawn is near.
Yes, the current situation is icky but it can’t stay this way for long.
I’ve found that when a person is at rock bottom, things can’t get worse. They can only improve. If you’re having the worst week or month of your life, be prepared for a positive change.
Life is like the seasons, after all. You can’t remain stuck in winter forever. Your situation will change, just like the seasons change.
You’ll find a way to move on, discover the solution or get the break you’ve been waiting for.
Don’t bask in life’s lows and dark places when light is just around the corner.
Stay hopeful for a brighter tomorrow. Stay patient if things take a little longer than expected.
As Napoleon Hill once said, “Most people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”
Life sometimes serves up difficult situations. You’ll feel terrified and hopeless. Helpless. Your experiences will feel pitch-black scary and lonely.
The good news is that your life won’t stay this way. You can find your way out if you stay strong and persist. You’ll not only achieve significant growth and change, you’ll come out stronger.
You’ll emerge with a newfound appreciation for where you’ve been and will learn lessons that last a lifetime.
Your darkest hours are merely a setup for your greatest days ahead.