Once a gentleman told me, “You southern women really are steel magnolias, aren’t you?”
He was surprised at the practical manner in which I was dealing with yet another death in my extended family. I’m not sure what he expected, and it isn’t that he meant it unkindly, but it did make me think. My response probably sounded curt, though it wasn’t intended to be: “Is there any other choice? You either cope with whatever life throws at you or it runs you over.”
That’s true enough, and just as applicable to northern women as southern women. And to men. And to children. We all endure the trials and challenges of life—no one is given a pass—and we all either cope or get squashed flat.
Admittedly, at times, I’ve felt like road kill. Everyone does. But over the years, I have found the difference not only to me but to those around me is in how I deal with trials. My point? There’s merit in the ways and means.
Can you think of anyone who hasn’t at some time felt like road kill? I can’t. And looking at it, things do tend to hit us in clusters. What I mean is, we all have not just one rough thing but patches of rough things. I’m not sure what the reasoning for that is, but it happens. We’re already down, and wham! We get hit again. And then again. Sometimes we keep getting smacked until we think we just can’t bear another thing.
And then we get smacked down with yet another something, and we discover that we can bear it. And not only do we bear it, we somehow survive it.
Yet who wants to just survive? We don’t. We want to thrive, to come out of the cluster challenges with each one of them causing us less trauma and drama than the one before it. We want to be better, stronger, wiser and more balanced on the backside of any challenge than we were on the front-side, going into any challenge.
That’s what we want. But how do we make it happen?
I don’t have all the answers. I won’t lie and say I do. I don’t even know all the questions. What I do know is that I’ve stumbled upon or been directed to several coping methods that have worked well for me. And those I’ll share in the hope that they’ll help you, too.
When a challenge strikes, assess it and then just as soon as possible, shift your focus to finding a solution to the challenge.
It’s important to focus on the problem long enough to determine why it became a problem. Something you did or didn’t do. The way in which you did or didn’t do that something. The why and how of the issue can spare you from being body-slammed with the same challenge again. You learn not to touch a hot stove because you know what happens if you do, right? This is the same principle.
Yet once you assess the problem, continuing to focus on the problem only keeps you in that suspended state of the awful problem. Wallowing there does nothing to correct the issue, much less to help you avoid future occurrences of it. Staying focused on the problem does not provide a solution, an avoidance tactic, or give you any means to prevent you from getting burned again.
So assess for the wisdom you can gain, and then take that wisdom and put all your energy into finding a solution. Just as soon as you’ve got a grasp, move on. Getting stuck in the past is destructive. It gets you bogged down spinning your wheels and robs you of the future accomplishments and ground that you would have gained if you’d just put the past to bed and looked forward.
When you direct your energy to finding solutions that get you back on an even keel, then you can not just look forward, you can move forward. That’s significant to your well being and progress. So assess then shift your focus to solutions, and…
Accept, don’t deny.
Often we ignore or even hide from the truth because we don’t want to stop what we’re doing long enough to accept that there is a problem. But denial doesn’t make the problem go away, it merely postpones dealing with it.
Too often during this denial stage, the problem gets worse. Just as if you neglect to floss your teeth, you get cavities between them. If you ignore a problem or deny one exists, the problem gets worse until you reach a point where it’s in your face and you can’t deny it. Spare yourself from a cavity becoming a crater. How? Awareness, recognition and acceptance. There is a problem. Accept it—now or later, you’re going to have to—so spare yourself some trauma and drama and worse problems by doing so sooner rather than later. Rectify issues early. It’s easier on you in the same way early detection of cancer is: you suffer less damage and have better odds that other connected things won’t also be impacted or infected.
Be aware, recognize a problem as a problem, and avoid denial, which serves no lasting useful or constructive purpose. (And is home to frustration, resentment, and compounding problems.) Accept that there is a problem—and then deal with it.
Problems are seated in issues. Some are yours, some are others. Regardless, they impact you. Your issues, you can fix. Others’ issues, you can’t fix. Accept that, too.
Women, being nurturers, want to fix everything for everyone. Men, being protectors, want to fix everything for everyone. It’s an aspiration that’s drummed into us from the cradle (and some say even earlier). But the truth is that we can’t do it. And not only can we not do it, we shouldn’t do it.
We need to understand that problems arise for different reasons. Among them are that they’re signposts, warning someone to change something in their lives. If we run around fixing everything for everyone, rather than helping them we could be actually harming them. We could be stunting their emotional growth.
If we play white knight, then the change that needs to made for someone’s greater good: for them to do what they must to feel worthy, content and fulfilled and reach their potential, could be thwarted. Ever heard the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions?” We all have. And there’s a reason. Sometimes we have to scrape our knees to keep from scraping our noses. If we aren’t permitted to scrape our knees, we will scrape our noses—likely more than once.
You can’t fix someone else. Even a trained therapist can only suggest, guide and shine light on a path to wellness. The patient must do the work to walk that path.
Remember, you are responsible for addressing your problems. Others are responsible for facing their own.
People tend to not want to do the work and, if you let them, they’ll make their problems your problems. We’ve all been in that position. What we forget that we should remember is that someone else can attempt to make their problem ours, but it only becomes our problem if we choose to accept it.
Refusing can sometimes be difficult—we fight that natural urge to fix and make better—but that fixing can be robbing them of achieving their potential. The unspoken message to the other person is, “I have to fix this because you’re not capable of fixing it.” And that often becomes a fact due to interference. So we must help judiciously and resist the temptation to jump in. Don’t hold others down. Instead encourage them. Refuse to take on their challenge as your own.
Solutions are rarely found in numbing drugs or other addictions.
We’re an immediate gratification society made even more impatient by technology and mindsets that tell us we want it all, we want it now, and we should have it all now.
I cringe every time I hear some version of that or see it in action because it is incredibly destructive and yet far too many hold that attitude and consider being given their due without delay a birthright. There are multiple problems with that attitude:
We don’t learn to solve little problems so we’re unprepared to solve big ones.
We gain fewer skills and less wisdom and insight (growth) from our challenges because we lack experience working to resolve them. Simply put, we’re not equipped to cope or deal with anything.
We lose our way in crises and then our esteem and faith in ourselves nosedives because we’ve failed to meet our needs. Nose-diving once is tough. But imagine going through it again and again.
We feel isolated, insignificant, incapable and stupid for not having what we term “better sense” than to get ourselves into these types of situations in the first place. Others do, and they seem to sail through just fine. Why us?
There’s a reason we learn to sit up, and then to scoot, and then to crawl and then to walk and then to run.
There’s a reason we learn to make noise and then to form sounds and then to say words and then to speak short sentences, and then longer, more expressive ones, and then talk in paragraphs—all long before we give speeches.
There’s a reason we are given small challenges and make small gains before addressing large ones.
We’re human, and mistake-prone. We learn from our experiences. We often learn the right way to do things by doing the wrong ones. Or to handle things constructively by first handling them in a way that proves destructive. We quickly learn we don’t want to do x because it results in y and one time of that y was more than enough, thank you very much!
The point is, we need those incremental steps. We need to take on little projects, little goals and increase them as our ability to cope grows. This is constructive. Trials form a foundation and then we build on it. Without that foundation, what we build can’t stand because it lacks needed support–experience.
Often, in frustration, people turn to drugs—some prescribed, some not—or to other things that are supposed to be quick fixes to make them feel better right now. And sometimes they do. The problem is the underlying issue remains. When the quick fix fades away and is gone, the issue is still there, waiting, and it grabs and shakes us until our teeth rattle.
Now the issue is bigger because that quick fix was no fix at all—and you realize it has added a few wrinkles to the problem you didn’t have before and those wrinkles must also be addressed. Typically, people then seek another quick fix or address the challenge. Some people try several quick fixes but eventually we all grow resigned. The problem’s still there and we’ve got to deal with it.
Think of the issue as a pain. Issues are often painful, so that doesn’t take much of a stretch. So you’ve got this pain. You want relief. You take a pain pill. You feel better, right? But then the pain pill wears off, the pain is back, and because you’ve experienced a little respite, it now hurts worse. At this point, you either take another pain pill or do what you can to stop the pain: address the cause of it to permanently heal the problem.
In principle, the same is true with our challenges. We can go for the quick fix—and many do so for years and years—but that problem remains and sooner or later we’re going to have to fix it so we can heal.
Some do spend an entire lifetime avoiding dealing with the cause. They revel in it. But it takes a lot of effort and energy to do so. That’s effort and energy we should be spending on other things that are important to us. We’re robbed of that ability though, because our energy is spent. All used up on avoiding our challenge. See the destruction in that? It’s glaringly apparent, isn’t it?
Let’s just not. Let’s get constructive. We’ll get the issue on the table and seek the permanent solution now—while the cavity is a pinhole or that cancer is contained. While the destruction and disruption to our lives will be the least and its weakest. We’ll solve the problem and then spend our time and energy on other things like making our dreams our reality.
An important point to recall: Destruction and disruption can compound until it consumes. Quick fixes and failing to seek the permanent fix that heals creates an environment ripe to create bigger problems. Solutions might take work, and they might not be as glamorous as quick fixes, but they resolve issues and free you from them.
Look for win/win solutions.
If your solution plays the blame game, it’s not a solution. So often people look for ways to escape taking responsibility for their actions, and that just creates a whole new crop of challenges that heap onto the old.
If you goof up—and we all do—then take the hit. Don’t try to hide it or wait for the fallout. As soon as you realize there’s a problem, address it. Apologize for it. Do what you can to correct it. And then put it behind you and press on.
The benefits to you are huge—for the way your see yourself and for the way others see you. Accepting responsibility fosters trust, proves concern and shows respect for whatever is impacted. It also demonstrates your personal integrity and ethics.
Contrary to all the myths circulated by those lacking integrity or ethics, there really aren’t shades of gray in this. You either have integrity or ethics or you don’t. Neither is something you can pull out when it’s convenient and look the other way or hide in a closet when it’s not.
The fact is: Doing the right thing is easy when you have nothing to lose. But when you risk losing a lot by being ethical is also when you gain most.
Too few get that. But it is true. Yes, sometimes short-term it can cause problems. But long-term, you always gain more than you ever thought about losing.
That includes your self-respect.
Win/win solutions require ethics and integrity. They require respect. They aren’t concerned with blame but are deeply concerned with solutions that are beneficial to everyone involved.
You’ve heard the suggestion, “Take the money and run.” You’ve heard, “Looking out for number one—me.” And, “Me, first.” We’ve all heard tons of these self-centered, me-oriented, inward-focused suggestions. Problem is, you might get positive results once. Or short-term gains. But that kind of behavior and thinking nets flash-in-the-pan results, not lasting beneficial ones that form solid relationships that last a lifetime.
Those actions don’t inspire loyalty or respect or anything that puts down a foundation strong enough to support the weight of anything else. Why? Because there is no trust. There can’t be.
You know exactly what to expect from people with these attitudes: they’re going to take care of themselves at all costs. If that means selling you down the river, get a float; you’ll need one and you know it.
That is not a healthy environment to live in, nor is it an environment in which you can flourish.
Win/win situations provide constructive, healthy environments in which everyone is invested in growing and flourishing. When you apply win/wins to your personal relationships, good things happen. When you apply them to your professional relationships, good things happen.
Investing in yourself is a good thing. Investing in others is service—and that’s a good thing, too. When what you do does both, the benefits are doubled.
Don’t expect others to rescue you.
More now than ever before, it seems everyone expects someone else to rescue them. Bailouts aren’t just popular on Capitol Hill, but in the personal lives of many.
Personal responsibility isn’t a challenge, it’s an aspect of our character. Personal accountability is, too. The sooner we accept responsibility for ourselves and our actions and we are held accountable for them, the sooner we learn the value of both, and to cope and grow and come into our own, being as strong and wise and successful as we can be.
The sooner we see those glimpses of light that lead us to living more balanced and content and fulfilled lives, the sooner we realize those are just the things that get us through those long, dark nights. ❖
Books make great gifts or stocking stuffers! A couple you might consider…
Romantic Thrillers, Romantic Comedy, Romantic Suspense: GENERAL MARKET