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What (Not) to Do When Life Throws You a Curve Ball

By Marcia Smalley October 19, 2023 Mindset

Change is constant. And every so often, Life throws a curve ball in the form of a cataclysmic change. An event that takes us so far off course, our heads are spinning. Or our hearts are breaking.

These occurrences tear at the fabric of everyday life and land us back at Square 1.

I experienced one of these shifts when I got a one-two punch that involved my health, coupled with the loss of two loved ones. As I struggled to catch my breath, I was reminded of a few things I’d learned years ago.

We’re resilient at this stage of life. Consequently, we can put ourselves under some pressure to buck up and get over whatever it is that’s knocked us for a loop.

Our culture has conditioned us to dust ourselves off and start all over again. We may be allowed a period of grieving; we may be granted “space” for a while. But then we’re expected to “get on with it.”

It’s better if you don’t.

When a Life-Altering Event Happens, It’s Best to Pause – Or Stop Entirely

You wouldn’t tear apart a chrysalis to see if the caterpillar is ready to emerge. Don’t further rip your world apart in your effort to move forward.

Put yourself in the caterpillar’s Square 1 shoes (tiny as they might be). When she creates that cocoon, she has no clue about what’s going to happen. Then she literally dissolves into an unrecognizable blob of goo. Nothing feels familiar. Nothing is the same.

So, she waits. Despite her confusion, even her despair, she allows time to pass.

We Deserve the Same Grace

Amidst external messages or the encouragement of well-meaning loved ones (Are you journaling? Are you painting? How about taking a class?), in times of sudden or life-altering change, we might prefer a warm blanket and a hot beverage. We might need to hunker down in the quiet.

We definitely need to allow all of our emotions to run their course.

What we don’t need is to make plans, create a spreadsheet, and set goals. Because we’re as frightened and bewildered as that used-to-be caterpillar. And we’ll be that way for as long as it takes.

In Due Time, the Caterpillar Begins to Transform

She’s still safely tucked away, but she starts to feel a change. Maybe she’s energized.

She begins to imagine what things will be like once she leaves her safe space. She wonders about what’s next.

Maybe she has caterpillar dreams about her new life.

Like her, despite what we’ve been through or what we’re still dealing with, eventually we’ll start getting curious, too. We’ll consider our possibilities, play around with a few ideas. We’ll begin to embrace joy and feel more positive.

This lighter, brighter stage of the change cycle will come. The important thing to remember is that we can’t hurry to get to it no matter how gooey our mess is or how eager we are to start over.

Transformation Is a Difficult Process

It’s hard to be comfortable with not knowing. But we must allow what’s happening to unfold and experience the murky uncertainty of our chrysalis. In the meantime, we need to take care of ourselves in every way. Surround ourselves with people we love. Seek outside help if that feels right.

Eventually, our lessons will become clear. The ways we’re growing and evolving will become apparent. We’ll take a few small steps forward.

Then we’ll fly.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you recently experienced a major life change? How did you handle it? What did you do to take care of yourself?

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Just when retirement was around the corner, my husband’s diagnosis turned everything upside down. Pancreatic cancer – a deadly diagnosis with slim chances of survival. But with love and determination (no family in the state where we live), I became his caregiver – his advocate, his cheerleader, and his lifeline. It wasn’t easy – the emotional toll, exhaustion, and uncertainty- but we faced the storm together. We sacrificed, adjusted our retirement dreams, and learned to live in the moment. And now, four years later, he completed a half
marathon and came in second in his age group.

Caregiving during the height of COVID – the stress, isolation, and fear of not knowing
what was going on was tough on my soul.  We didn’t leave the house unless for frequent chemo and oncology appointments.  I spent my time researching, advocating, and providing the best possible care for my husband.

In the process, I totally lost myself and gained a lot of weight.  I was a regular gym goer and had difficulty mentally going anywhere and having fun.  I still have that problem.  On the flip side, by joining a CBT journaling group, I found new passions and joys- writing, art, and new types of home fitness I never tried before (Pilates, Weightlifting, Barre).   Slowly I am getting back to where I was before with the goal of rejoining the activities I loved. I also joined a Monday night potluck group with women from my church, we eat, talk and then pray for others. That has helped immensely.

Lee Ann Phinney

Will you share where you found Pilates Home Fitness? I managed to lose some weight, and was maintaining with a dance fit class and regular walking. Now I’m being treated for a probable torn meniscus in my knee, and need to shift to less strenuous activities. Thank you!

Michele Eckford

Deb. What you’ve let us know was special. Tks.

Carol Eccles

This was really beautiful to read. I went through a trauma in February, my marriage ended unexpectedly in unpleasant circumstances, it was a total shock to me, we had been together 24 years. I’ve been through grief, anger, depression and every other emotion there is. I feel like I’m just starting with the transformation stage and find myself getting excited about what the future has to hold for me. I feel grateful and honoured that I have good health and am able to come and go as I please. Thank you for writing this piece, it explains the process exactly.

Marcia Smalley

Thank you, Carol. I’m glad this has helped. Wishing you continued peace in your journey forward.

Anne Barlow

These are wise words. Thank you 🦋

Marcia Smalley

You’re welcome and thank you for reading, Anne.


Beautiful piece – thank you.

Marcia Smalley

Thanks, Gayle, and thank you for reading.


I love this article. In the last few years, I have gone thru breast cancer and my husband being injured in an accident. Some days, you just curl up on the sofa , a cuppa, good book or movie and own what is happening in your life! Came out on the other side, but it was a long year!!

Marcia Smalley

Yes, time can stand still during these periods. Wishing you the best, Nancy, and thank you for reading.

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The Author

Marcia Smalley is a certified retirement coach and life coach, a writer and a teacher. She delights in helping mid-life women step confidently into their next act and design a joyous, expanded life. Marcia provides coaching support to women who are navigating retirement or other life transitions and writes a monthly e-newsletter to her entire online community. Please visit her website at

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