By Lisa A. Listwa
Life has a way of hitting us when we’re down. Or at least that’s often our perception.
How many times have you thought to yourself that a situation couldn’t possibly get any worse? And then it does.
Several years ago, I had reached a crossroads. I was a wife, the mother of an active preschooler, and a full-time teacher. I was tired. The kind of tired teachers experience that only summer break can cure. The kind of tired parents know will only be relieved when your last kid reaches adulthood. I knew that I was ready to think about moving to another career, but really had no specific ideas about what or where or even when. I knew I was no longer a teacher; I knew there was something more, something different for me.
And then the bomb dropped. Not long after my husband and I started to seriously discuss the feasibility of me starting something new, he was unexpectedly relieved of his current employment responsibilities. Yup – laid off. Let go. Well, not laid off so much as given the option of a change to his responsibilities for a fifth of his salary. No reasonable person with a mortgage payment could have said yes. My husband is reasonable; he said no thank you and left to seek greener pastures. And thus, we began the process of finding him an alternate occupation.
In the meantime, however, we needed a steady paycheck and benefits, so guess where I was staying?
I should probably mention here that the place I had to remain was the very same place that relieved my husband of his employment. Yeah, talk about adding insult to injury. I feel like it’s a little cliché to say that my life became a living hell, but for the next two years, that’s precisely what it felt like. Every day I had to walk into a building where I was used to seeing my husband’s face and watch someone else do his job. We met while both working at this school; I had never known a time when he wasn’t there every day. I guess it got a bit easier as the months passed, but not much. Remember, too, that in addition to this I was still doing a job that I knew I had outgrown. I was unhappy, bitter, and frustrated.
My grandfather was a very pragmatic man. When life had me down he would tell me, “You have two choices: You can sit there and cry about it, or you can pick yourself up and do something about it.” I used to think he wasn’t being very sympathetic. But sympathy is rarely the thing that gets us up and moving.
Keeping food on the table, a roof over our heads, and insurance cards in our wallets was the motivation that kept me getting up every morning and going to a place I had grown to resent. It wasn’t easy. Most days it was hard – really hard. But sitting at home and crying about the whole situation was not going to change a thing. Keeping ourselves focused on our long-term goals kept us moving.
My husband spent the next two years re-inventing himself. When he secured his first new position and we knew a paycheck and benefits were back in play it was my turn to make a move and I jumped at the chance. I had to. So much of the future was uncertain, but I had reached a place where I knew I had to get out. I was exhausted in every way possible; I was over-stressed and under-motivated. My physical health was suffering. I was completely miserable and constantly irritable. I wanted to get out before I morphed into “that teacher” – the one who is clearly not interested in being in the classroom and does a lousy job.
I left my teaching position with a bit of money in savings, a hopeful plan for future income, and a whole lot of “what ifs” swirling in my mind.
I was terrified.
Not too long after I quit my job, it became clear that this was going to be harder than I anticipated. My original income plan didn’t exactly work out as I expected. Let’s just say I was led to believe there was a bigger market for my skills than was actually the case. I decided to work for myself doing some substitute teaching, some tutoring, and some freelance writing – lots of different things to keep even a small stream of funds coming in. It hasn’t been easy. Making a self-employed living is uncertain and nerve-wracking. Many months, money is tight. Many times, in the last few years, we’ve had to rely on various forms of help and support from family. Talk about humbling.
My grandfather’s advice has stayed with me throughout my life and I make every effort to use it when life rains down sh*t upon me. And believe me, it has rained plenty in the past five years. That’s not to say I don’t sit down and cry about things every now and then. In fact, I just did it the other day. I sat down and cried and screamed and let the world know I was frustrated. Then I went a step further and laid down and took a nap.
It seemed appropriate.
But then I woke up. I put my feet on the floor, stood up, and made dinner. And then I went about the rest of the day’s business. And the next morning I got up again – even though staying in my warm bed felt like a much better idea – and I went about that day’s business. Now I’m moving forward again and that’s exactly where I need to be. Because to do otherwise would be to give up my dreams and let fear and frustration win.
The thing about sitting (or lying) down and crying, though, is that maybe we all need that every now and then. Maybe we need the emotional release, the opportunity to just scream THIS REALLY SUCKS and get it out of our system. It definitely works for me. But continuing to sit still isn’t going to change a thing.
So, what if we look at the rough times in life as opportunity? I know, I know – that’s hard. Of course it is. But what if we work to recondition our minds to look at a setback as a turning point, an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, an opportunity to try a new way?
But the key is that we must be open to possibility, we must be able to believe that there is something beyond the immediate pain. I am certain that is what gave me the courage to turn in my resignation two and a half years ago. In art and literature and life we see the idea of the mythological phoenix rising from the ashes over and over again. There’s good reason for that. As humans, we are designed to grow. We are designed to be resilient and to overcome whatever challenges we face. Look back through history and see how many people, how many nations, how many cultures have come back from what seemed insurmountable odds.
And then think about all the opportunities we have in life to start over and to rise again…
Sometimes our resurrections are massive undertakings. We rise above evil, hate, oppression, and all other manner of bad stuff in the world when we choose kindness, love, and compassion. We survive wars and natural disasters and even when so many suffer and die, we hold each other up so we can come back and rebuild.
We start fresh after unemployment, divorce, death, addiction, and illness. We rise from the ground after we trip and fall or crash while learning to ride a bike.
We rise in the morning to face a new day.
And sometimes, it is just that simple.
Lisa A. Listwa is a self-employed writer with experience in education, publishing, and the martial arts. Believing there was more to life than punching someone else’s time clock and inspired by the words of Henry David Thoreau, she traded her life as a high school educator for a life as a freelance writer and never looked back. She is mother to one glorious handful of a daughter, wife to the nicest guy on the planet, and reluctant but devoted owner of three rotten cats. She spends her time stacking the pile of books to read ever higher, wondering if she should have been a chef, and trying to figure out where she last left her damn cell phone. In addition to an eclectic mix of works in progress, Lisa also writes about life, its banalities, and the beauty of living deliberately on her blog, The Meaning of Me.