This week I was thinking of the things I’m thankful for. It’s an exercise I try to practice regularly. I started down my usual list: home, work, family, church, food, water, warm showers, clothes. Then I had an epiphany. I was thankful for all the wrong things. Those things are great but they haven’t really effected who I’ve become. You know, the person I am when I’m all alone with just me and my thoughts.
What has effected me are the hard times, the tough decisions, and the failed attempts. Those things shape us, mold us, and refine us.
For the last several months, I’ve been on a bold, new journey. In June of last year, I was laid off…again, so I decided to forge a new career. I developed some expectations of what I wanted and started working to make it a reality. It hasn’t been easy. It’s often been scary and still is at times. But it’s stretched me, and my wife, in ways we never expected.
How to grow and be thankful during hard times
Some things I’ve learned along the way:
- Don’t complain.
- Always hope.
- Don’t stop moving, if something doesn’t work, try something else.
- Find encouragement and spend a lot of time there.
- Don’t be cynical.
- Don’t blame.
- Be a peacemaker.
- Don’t take it out on your spouse, they’re on your team.
- Help someone else.
Change forces us to assess what we truly value
In Western culture, we focus almost exclusively on material wealth as a measure of success or failure. Lots of stuff=success, little stuff=failure. However, in cultures where 99% of the people live on pennies a day, they tend to focus on other measures of success, like spiritual devotion and commitment to fellow man. I think we could learn a lot from these cultures. Our desire to obtain impedes our ability to become.
Celebrate the hard times
Almost 21 years ago, I met the love of my life. Our engagement and marriage was pretty controversial. We dated very briefly (spelled two weeks), then got engaged. I married a woman I barely knew and she married a man she barely knew. We were confident we’d chosen the right mate, but that confidence had to be proven by trial and fire.
We both admit if we’d known the difficulties ahead of us, we might have reconsidered. But as we approach our twenty-first anniversary, we view our relationship as an investment. A journey filled with good times and bad, ups and downs.
That’s the rhythm of life. If everything’s going well, just wait, a challenge will eventually present itself. You can try to avoid challenges but that would be like trying to develop muscles without exercise.
No pain, no gain
Two weeks ago, I started a very intense workout regimen. Each week is progressively more difficult and this week my body is screaming. But I also feel stronger and more vibrant than I have in months, maybe years. Feeling stronger comes with a cost, pain and discomfort.
Looking back over the years, my wife has proven to be a faithful friend and companion. She’s stood by my side in sickness and in health, good times and bad. I can’t imagine any other person in my life. But our closeness and confidence in each other has little to do with the good times. It is the result of the hard times, difficult decisions and commitment.We decided on day one of our marriage we’d never quit and never give up and we failed our way to success. If we’d wanted an excuse to give up on our relationship, we could’ve found one a long time ago.
But we understood the path to most victories is littered with trial, challenge and hurdles and failures. I think a major shortcoming of our society is we don’t prepare our kids for failure.
How to fail forward
Five steps to promote a positive response to failure:
- Expect failure.
- Don’t try to control every outcome.
- Encourage meaningful risks.
- Don’t second guess decisions.
- Make it obvious your love and acceptance is unconditional.
When we allow ourselves, our friends and our family to fail we learn accountability, responsibility, tenacity, and commitment. We learn how to respond in a healthy way when things don’t work out as planned.
So celebrate failures. Be thankful for hard times. They are the frames around the snapshots of life’s good times.
Are you allowing your friends, family and colleagues to fail positively? What can you do to help someone fail positively today?
Image: Robert Rizzo