If you’ve lived six decades or more, you have probably experienced some unexpected and profoundly difficult life events. Perhaps the loss of a spouse, divorce, an unsuccessful business venture or being let go from the job you loved. Events like these create a massive fault line, dividing life into the “before” and the “after.”
The question is how to navigate the “after.” Especially when we didn’t see it coming, and particularly when it’s never happened before.
The brain’s natural tendency is to look to the past for evidence that the task at hand is possible. Yet often the most devastating of life events happen once-in-a-lifetime, so there is no past evidence to reassure us that we can do it.
Difficult life events can make us wish there was a guidebook or owner’s manual for how to navigate the unexpected and unimaginable.
There is no training to live this life “after.” There is no rule book, no orientation class, no onboarding process to help us adjust to such a surreal and life changing situation. Dealing with other losses was certainly painful, but the most life altering events bring unprecedented pain and intense uncertainty.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to tell us that we’re doing it “right,” that we’ve got what it takes?
Author and productivity expert James Clear writes, “Don’t feel qualified? Nobody does. You can only be qualified to do that which you have already accomplished or trained for. Anything new is accomplished by unqualified people.”
So here we are, a bunch of people navigating the day-to-day after a life altering event, with no actual “qualifications,” trying to learn to live with what feels insurmountable.
Here is the good news. There is no rule book, orientation class or onboarding process because there is no one right way to navigate life after a difficult event. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The right way is your way, on your terms and on your timeline.
Is it messy? Definitely. Is it linear? Not at all. Is it sometimes an unsteady one-step-forward-two-steps-back shuffle? Absolutely.
Do you have what it takes? You get to decide the answer to that. But just answer it for today, for this hour and this minute. Can you do today? I bet you can. Then you just do a bunch of “todays,” one by one.
As you do those “todays,” write down anything that feels like the smallest win. Notice your thoughts and don’t believe everything you think. Ask your brain to explore what else might be true. Choose your thoughts with intention and think them regularly – on purpose.
No matter how long ago your life took a dramatic turn, my guess is that this is new for you. You’ve likely never been in exactly this place. It’s one massive learning curve which can only be mastered little by little, day by day, and sometimes breath by breath.
Think back to when you were 18. You had no past evidence that you could get a degree, land the perfect job or find a life partner. You simply believed you could, with no real evidence to prove it.
You chose thoughts that made you feel motivated or intentional, and from that place you began to take the necessary actions: applying to college, studying for the exam, polishing the resume, or stepping into the dating world. The various actions aggregated and resulted in the desired result.
We can channel our 18-year-old selves today as we face a life we didn’t expect to live. We don’t have evidence that we can do it, and we don’t exactly know how to do it, but we can simply choose thoughts that serve us, such as I’m a person who is figuring this out. I believe in my ability to put one foot in front of the other, to draw the next breath, and to become this next version of me.
What have you navigated in life despite feeling unqualified at the time? What advice would you give to someone experiencing a life altering event that you have also experienced? What have you accomplished without any past evidence that you could be successful?