Monday Musings…. Hold On or Let Go?
Does anyone remember the "Choose Your Own Adventure' books? These were a staple in our home library and my children spent a great deal of their formative years reading them before bed. It was a great marketing ploy because parents only needed to purchase a few editions, as the books could be read over and over again, with a different outcome every time! But what also made them great, was that it introduced young minds to the concept of resilience. Life doesn't always turn out the way that you want it to. It's what you choose to do in that moment of disappointment, distress, or disaster, that will make all the difference in your life.
Resilience is one of those buzz words that we’ve been hearing a lot about over the last few years, and certainly in these interesting times we’re living in now. It's been toted as the key to survival, in an almost Darwinian sense, where people are told to toughen up, hold on, and then, the most often used motto, to: stay strong!
But think for a moment, resilience is one of those terms that can only be fully understood if you’ve actually been tested in some way. We've raised a generation of children who've been bubble-wrapped from adversity, who've worn helmets and knee pads riding a tricycle, and who need to stay safe in a booster seat until they weigh 110 pounds! They may know how to spell resilience - oh, I forgot their tablet will spell it for them - but they've never had a chance to explore what it truly means.
When your children cross the bridge into adolescence and eventual young adulthood, you should want them to choose their own adventure. But alas, they are ill-equipped for the journey, and as you know, there will be hills to climb, swamps to wade through, and sometimes they'll face a dead end. What then?
Well, often, because you don't want anyone to feel the pain of unfulfilled dreams, you will attempt to breathe joy into the deflated person with platitudes of “it could be worse” or “things will be better tomorrow” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Now, no disrespect to Kelly Clarkson, but too often her music lyrics are used to minimize and cover over the real issue for those on the edge of defeat. (And sad to say, Kelly's having her own struggles as I write this.) And so, just like the Titanic sinking, the masses chant the refrain: "Hold on and stay strong!" all the while the odds of survival are practically nil.
Now, when a person has had to endure what’s felt like insurmountable road blocks, regrets, and rejections, in an adventure they would rather not have chosen, and yet somehow they are still afloat (unlike Jack from the Titanic), there are only two possible outcomes: resilience or resentment.
I think a lot of people end up in the resentment boat, brewing bitterness over what could have been, or should have been. After all, they were told it would get better, only it didn't. They were told to hang on, only their palms got full of blisters and they crashed to the ground. They were told to stay strong, but on the inside they were dying of guilt, shame, and regret.
Society has created this illusion that if you work hard, if you’re kind and spend your money and time wisely, if you do 'all the right things', you’ll never have to face adversity. But illusions are a distorted sense of reality. Your mind deceives itself into believing that the sun only shines on the righteous and not the wicked; when often in life, it’s the other way around. But most people are never taught that either. Instead, they're taught to hold on and stay strong.
The problem with this mainstream mantra though, is that it has manifested exactly the opposite outcome of its original intention. Instead, it's produced the walking wounded; throngs of people have been duped into trying to fake it 'til they make it, and it's killing them inside. They've chosen your adventure, and are holding on and holding out for the prospect that things will get better. And sometimes, that is simply not going to work.
Think of people in relationships or friendships that you may not realize are unhealthy or toxic. Because you're not living their life, you may encourage them to work the issues out, when that's what they have been trying to no avail. Or those who are in jobs where they are brow-beaten, taken advantage of because they are a dependable person, and yet never seem to progress up the pay scale. Or those who are in post-secondary programs, that really don't fit with their interests or aptitude. To 'stay the course" and keep pushing because "things may get better" is not always the best advice. In fact, one of the worst times these platitudes are used, is in regards to those who are dying. When it is obvious that a person's situation is not going to improve, you're heaping more pain and pressure on the already stressed individual, as they seek to please you and follow the path you think is best.
People need to be given the permission to let go - to let go of bad work environments, bad relationships, of post-secondary programs that just don't fit, and even of this life when their health is failing and the remedies have run out. People are so worried about what others will think of them, that they let that fear perpetuate their problem. We have prides of Cowardly Lions - fierce on the outside (for your benefit), but terrified on the inside. True courage and strength, though, come from giving up the fight and accepting how life has unfolded.
Sometimes there are things a person just can’t change in the environment they find themselves in. When they think of all the hurt and pain from their past, or maybe even their current circumstances, and all the wrongs that have been done to them, or mistakes made, it does no good to ‘hold on’, grit their teeth, and deny reality by believing that they'll come out unscathed. That resistance does not equal resilience. Instead, resilience involves accepting what has happened, then surrendering to the truth of the matter, and finally, determining to chart a new course moving forward to something greater. The next path on their life adventure is up to them.
Acceptance and surrender makes one realize that they're not alone in this universe. The healing comes when they're able to see that even good can come out of trial and even tragedy. It's all in how it's perceived. There are a ton of motivational speakers who have survived the hurricanes or sinking ships in their lives. They chose, on their life adventure, to let go of the pain, and find meaning and purpose in it.
I, by no means, want to paint a rosy picture of adversity or minimize traumatic experiences, or promote that people should go out looking for trouble to find meaning and purpose in their life. No! The point for you, dear reader, is to recognize the truth, even in your own life: that trials and tribulations will come, and you will be stretched to your limit. You don’t know how you’re going to react to unforeseen future challenges; you don’t know if you will be able to be strong enough to hold on until you’re tested. But this you should know: that come what may, lessons will be learned, a purpose will be found for the pain, and your life will take on a whole new meaning that potentially you can use for not only your own good, but for the good of others.
So, when disappointments, difficulties, and disasters come, accept that you've been tested and been found wanting. Surrender control of your life. Let go of the pride that's holding you back. And find true strength in that release as you choose your next adventure.