How Your Biggest Life Challenges Can Be Your Greatest Gift
Updated: May 1, 2020
Do you ever feel the heaviness of life? The weight of the world on your shoulders? Have you gone through a loss of some kind? Maybe you lost a loved one. Maybe you lost your job or your income. Maybe you went through a breakup or divorce. (Anyone else getting triggered in their relationships while stuck in quarantine?). Maybe you lost your sense of purpose with the whole world on lockdown. Maybe you feel stuck since life as we knew it stopped--and may never come back to how it used to be.
(Hint: there's light at the end of this tunnel, I promise. Stick with me.)
Whatever you've dealt with or are dealing with, I want you to know that, even when going through your darkest days or your deepest heartbreak, if you're willing to walk through it, the "gold" is on the other side. Let me share with you a story about how I discovered that our biggest challenges can be our greatest gift.
Picture this. Miami. 2012. I'd left the corporate world searching for work that would be more meaningful and fulfilling to me. I was teaching dance and loving it. I was in love with a guy I thought I'd spend the rest of my life with. I'd moved back home with my parents (who were incredibly supportive of my transition from corporate life) and was enjoying quality time with them. My mom has always been my best friend, my soul mate, the one person I turn to for everything--you know that person in your life that just gets you and loves you no matter what?
In February of that year, my dad, sister and I went away on a father-daughter trip and, when we returned, found out our mom had been oddly paralyzed for one day while home alone and wasn't able to call for help. We were horrified and pleaded with her to go to the doctor to see what could've caused it.
After battling breast cancer 8 times over the preceding decades, she was no longer interested in being poked and prodded. Until finally several weeks later, around my birthday, she went in for an MRI and came out with a disheartening diagnosis. The cancer had metastasized into her bones and she was given 6 months left to live. For almost 2 months she'd held off on telling my sister and me (she still had hope for her survival, not to mention she didn't want to tell me "Happy birthday, Michelle! I'm going to die in six months."). Math was never my forte but I figured it out fast. Way too fast. We'd have about four months left with her.
My entire world stopped in that moment.
And following that came an onslaught of hospice, medications, debilitating pain as our mom's body deteriorated, and thankfully a lot of love and togetherness that brought us even closer as a family as we paved the way for her to return Home.
Our family, just 2 years before the fated news.
During that time of losing my mom, I was still in the middle of a career change, as teaching dance was not going to pay the bills in the long run. I discovered yoga thanks to my mom who'd suggested in her final weeks that I learn to teach it. The practice and study of yoga became a lifeline as I navigated my way through the murky and unknown depths of grief.
Shortly after my mom died, my dad sold the house and I was forced to move out. Then my boyfriend and I broke up.
I think it's safe to say this was the hardest time of my life. My mom, best friend and soul mate--all wrapped up in one--was gone. The guy I thought I'd spend the rest of my life with, gone. My cherished family home, gone. And I was still studying and not yet certified to teach yoga so I was taking on temp jobs in all sorts of offices to help keep me afloat.
There were many days I didn't think I'd make it through. While I looked ok on the outside and thought I was handling things relatively well, for some time I secretly wished to die. I saw no more point in my life. There seemed to be nothing left to live for.
What got me through? What helped me turn things around? A combination of things. Yoga. Dance. Journaling. Meditation. Reading books about loss, the afterlife and anything self-help. Transformational seminars and workshops. Ugly cry fests. Comedy. My family. My friends. God (aka The Universe, Spirit). And, somewhere deep down inside (even though I'd privately wished for my own death), there was still a will, however infinitesimally faint, to keep going. A desire to grow from this. A yearning to make something meaningful and beautiful out of this mess, instead of just chalking it up as "the worst time of my life" and moving on somehow, bitter and broken.
And that's what I did. It took me years to get out of my own funk--or, really, to get out of my own way! I think we sometimes hold onto our pain for so long because we're afraid if we let go of the pain of loss that we'd be letting go of who or what we've lost and they'll be "forever gone".
Nothing could be further from the truth. Whatever or whomever you've lost only feels like a loss in the physical world and because of the stories we tell ourselves about the perceived loss. Quantum physics has proven to us that we are all connected as one single consciousness. Everything is energy, and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. So who or what we've lost still exists, but in a different form than we're accustomed to experiencing. Knowing this brought me comfort that I wasn't really separated from my mom. Nothing can sever the bond of love, not even death.
Looking back at all the pain and countless dark nights of the soul I had, I can see how it's lead me to where I am today: stronger, more compassionate, more fulfilled and with purpose. Sure I still have some tough days but I'm no longer stuck in grief or sadness over my life as it used to be. The journals I'd written while going through grief turned into my book "A Beautiful Death: A Memoir of Surviving Loss" that has been a source of inspiration to many. Because of what I went through I became a yoga therapist, specializing in helping people heal through cancer as well as many other ailments and injuries, and I became a grief coach, helping (primarily) women turn the pain of their broken hearts to purpose, personal growth and passion for life.
Looking back I wouldn't trade any of it. I often share with people that my mom gave me life but she also gave me her death because it was through her death that I was reborn. I learned that no matter how dark and hopeless life may seem in the moment, there's light on the other side of this pain. This won't and can't last forever. You just have to keep going. And for those days you don't feel like you can keep going, take a timeout if you can. Take a nap, distract yourself with a "feel good" movie, so long as distraction doesn't become a habit.
Can you look back and see how your biggest challenges in life made you better in some way? Maybe it made you more patient, more empathetic, wiser, stronger. And if you're in one of those "dark nights" right now and can't yet see the silver lining, hang in there. And make the decision that you will make something meaningful and beautiful out of this. The first step to making anything a reality is to set the intention. Start there. Then take it one day at a time.
You can either choose to hold onto the pain and be bitter and broken or you can choose to reinvent yourself and rise up like the Phoenix from the ashes. Which one do you want?
"Trials in life are not meant to make us fail but to see how far we can soar."