My family is going through some hard times right now. Their stories aren’t mine to tell, but suffice it to say that my brother is going through a brutal, painful divorce and we’re all coming together to support him through it all. As a result, we talked a lot this Thanksgiving about muddling through the tough periods in life, how and when to ask for help, what to focus on, how to heal, and more.
I’m not too far out from my own painful divorce. My ex and I separated about a year and a half ago, finalizing our divorce a few months later. During the struggle of moving on, I’ve also dealt with a whole host of health issues, finally being diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease and beginning an intense and sometimes painful treatment protocol.
The last two years have been incredibly transformative – at times immensely challenging, filled with anxiety, riddled with doubt, and colored by a sense of loss and failure. And yet, at times I have also felt overwhelmed by the beauty of this life, a sense of purpose and meaning, a new found confidence and comfort in my self, and the power of true and honest love.
This Thanksgiving my father asked me how I got through it all, what I tried, what worked, and what lessons stuck as I transformed my sense of self, my attitude and my life. I realized there were a few key choices that I made, some out of pure instinct and some out of lots of thought and intention, that made all the difference in my ability to create a life that is finally true and authentically me. A life that I genuinely love.
#1. Find a therapist. A good one.
I know many of you will balk at this advice. And many will believe this is only appropriate for whiners, crybabies, the dysfunctional, etc. If that’s your reaction, you probably need a therapist more than anyone else. Here’s the deal. A therapist will be your coach, your ally in turning the most devastating experiences into those that provide strength, wisdom, and yes, grit.
A therapist can help you process the pain of your experience, but can also help you identify your role in the outcome, so that you can learn real lessons and become a better person as a result. And a good therapist can teach you tools and frameworks to apply to the rest of your life, skills that you can use in tough times in the future – or even to prevent those future tough times.
If you think that your sole focus during difficult times must be all about project managing your struggles – negotiating separations, talking to lawyers, handling logistics – you are in for a world of hurt. Tough times affect every part of you, including your emotional self. If you don’t take that aspect seriously, you are doomed to never truly heal from your misfortune and repeat whatever mistakes you’ve made.
And let me tell you, the lessons you learn in therapy will reap rewards in every part of your life. You’ll be more self-aware which will help you build better relationships of all kinds. You’ll develop greater empathy which will make you a better leader, salesperson, and negotiator. And you’ll learn to be more present, which will make you less anxious and more productive.
Seriously. Get a therapist.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed by the negativity of a particular situation or person or loss, we often want to be preoccupied with activity. Or we want to be drunk. Or we want to be numb to all the feelings, by watching mindless television, entranced by social media, or distracted by some sort of amusement.
Fight the urge to be distracted all the time. Be present. And slow the fuck down.
Meditation does wonders for this. I know it can feel intimidating, but now there are a ton of great apps that make meditation accessible and actually pretty damn easy. My favorite is Headspace. They’ve got 100s of hours of guided meditations on all kinds of topics and Andy Puddicomb’s voice is amazing.
And here’s the great thing. Pretty much every super successful entrepreneur credits meditation with aiding their achievements. You’ll be more centered and more present. You’ll be less anxious and stressed. You’ll even sleep better.
Carve out 10 minutes a day and meditate. I actually describe my favorite meditation app in our 7 Tools for Getting through Hard Times Guide.
Tech world tip: if your office has phone booths, you can easily sneak off into one of those to meditate. I do it at WeWork all the time and it’s glorious.
#3 Express Yourself
Often when times are tough, we want to just hunker down and muddle through. I get it. I often take that strategy. I think if I can just shut up and get through everything will be okay, but usually, when I’m all the way through, I then have a lot of feelings I still need to process. One of the best ways to cope with struggles is to talk it out. Obviously, the therapist above will help with that, but getting into the practice of doing more than that will serve you in the long run.
Sharing with a friend will certainly help, but I found that regular writing made the biggest difference for me. I created a daily practice of writing 750 words a day. I made this a daily priority for a few months and still now complete this practice more often than not and it’s been transformative.
750 words is just enough to force me to go beyond the superficial and really dig into my thoughts, feelings, and perspective on certain issues. I have a running list in my bullet journal of writing prompts – subjects I find interesting, articles that spurred a reaction, quotes that inspired me – and I just write. Some have turned into blog posts and some help me strategize a tough conversation I’ve been putting off or flesh out an idea for a new project.
Tell your story. Share your struggles. Talk through it.
#4 Feed Yourself
During difficult personal trials, we often wind up in a sort of survival mode – focusing on the overwhelming situation and dealing with the external logistics that result. And this is necessary. You need to take care of legal, logistical, and practical issues as they arise. You do.
But eventually those externalities will begin to quiet and you’ll be left to yourself. And that’s when it’s time to take care of you.
I’m not talking about the Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle style of Treat Yo’self. No, I’m talking about giving yourself the care, attention, and rewards that you truly need. Providing opportunities for yourself that really mean something worthwhile, that deep down you’ve been longing for.
During my marriage, my ex demanded that everything include him. Every experience was at least about the two of us, and often mostly about him. And I, being a natural giver, dove right in and accommodated. But this meant that I shied away from opportunities or adventures that were for me alone. And so one of the best parts of my healing process was starting to rediscover the experiences that I wanted to have.
And so, I went with the Aspen Institute’s Fringe Diplomacy organization to Cuba. I joined a virtual book club and started reading again. I began slowly taking on little craft projects – spray painting old furniture and hanging new art. I took online classes to improve my skills in my job. I tried restaurants that had always caught my eye.
And with each new investment in myself, I felt bolder, braver, and more me.
Equally importantly, I stopped doing things that I didn’t enjoy and I stopped feeling guilty when I did. My ex was the social butterfly and I was the introvert, so I often found myself at events where I didn’t want to be, feeling awkward, tired, and stressed. And during my healing process, I just stopped. I appreciated being home with my dog, cooking new things, and just being alone.
#5 Practice Positivity
When times are rough, it can become too easy to view the world through a lense of sadness, pain, or insecurity. Your vision gets cloudy and suddenly everything feels darker. It becomes harder to see the hope, optimism, and beauty of the world. Suddenly you can feel like the whole world is darker, sadder, and more unjust. And this inclination is often stronger when your hard times are chaotic, frantic, and all-consuming. If you’re still dealing with the constant challenging logistics of a divorce or a death, the thoughts of negativity can be downright overwhelming.
The only way you can buck the trend is through intention and practice. Yep, that can mean a little of the fake it ’til you make it. But I’ve also learned that filling my head with positive thoughts and images can make a huge difference. This year has been stressful for me because of the dire state of politics. Plus, I only separated from my ex about 18 months ago. And the company I worked for ran out of money and I started my own business. The first half of the year was pretty rough. And I realized that my habit of listening to a dozen different political podcasts each week was only adding fuel the fire of negativity.
And so I stopped. After a couple decades of political passion, I just stopped paying obsessive attention.
And I started listening to positive audiobooks, creative podcasts, and upbeat music. And I started smiling more. And getting more done, taking bigger risks, and accomplishing more.
I still read the news and consider myself informed, but it doesn’t dominate my thoughts the way it used to. Listening to happy inspired ideas has made me happier and more inspired.
I urge you to surround yourself with more news, stories, and education that inspires and empowers you. And just turn down the volume on the constant onslaught of the depressing.
Here’s the misunderstanding about grit. People think it’s all about being tougher. Developing some kind of thick skin that gets you through anything. And sure, there’s a part of that. But if you’re not taking care of yourself, your stores of energy, resilience, and grit will simply crumble.
Grit means recognizing what you genuinely need and providing yourself with those resources, so that you can carry on.
I’ve listed the resources and practices that have helped me. What’s helped you?