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Dec 31, 2023

Lessons Learned From 2023’s Biggest Personal Challenges

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters” ~ Epictetus

The beginning of the year is a typical time for reflection. Personally, 2023 was one heck of a roller coaster for me, as it had its highlights and lowlights. But as I reflect on everything that took place and what I gained from each experience, I thought I would get a little vulnerable and share my learnings from some of the biggest challenges of my year. Hopefully, you can also benefit from a lesson or two here.

Divorce – Managing regret, self-doubt, forgiveness and reflection

My divorce from one of my best friends was finalized in 2023. That sentence may be difficult to understand as ‘divorce’ and ‘best friends’ don’t typically share the same space on a page. It was only after years of trying to make things work that we decided to amicably go our separate ways. The details are private (of course), but the lessons learned are worth sharing.

There’s plenty to be said about the phrase, “It takes two…” – as most of the time breakups are not about one person. Relationships aren’t simple; we all make mistakes and do things that hurt and even leave scars on others. As time passes, whether our actions were intentional seems to matter less as we can only reconcile how we feel.  If you’ve been through this, you know there’s a ton to “feel”.  The self-doubt and fear of what other people will think or say were things my spouse and I talked heavily about.  Ending my marriage was sad and heartbreaking, but I’m fortunate to have gone through this with someone who was willing to share their sadness and heartbreak with me.  I know this is not the case for everyone.

Regardless of your relationship (personal, professional, acquaintances), if it’s time to move on, it’s also time to reflect. Grab a buddy, a self-help book, or a podcast if you don’t want to speak to a professional. Commit to learning about yourself, your history, your needs and wants, and why you entered into the relationship in the first place. It’s easy to question yourself and think you need to live in regret, but you need to pause and take a close look at where you feel you and the other person may have erred and determine what you can learn from the experience. Commit to this, and you’ll not only help yourself heal and grow but you’ll be in a better position to help someone else do the same.

Layoffs – Managing embarrassment, anger, fear and resilience

2023 was a difficult year for thousands of companies as a quick online search delivered the following statistic. Since January 1st of 2023, more than 5,400 companies have announced layoffs. Unfortunately, my company was not immune to the economic uncertainty and pressures these companies faced. While I’m still happily employed, many of my colleagues and friends were impacted. Conversations with these people while they processed the shock of being told they no longer have a job is challenging. The love and support I wanted to provide sometimes shadowed my feelings of wonder and worry as I’m an empath. Helping others cope with their anger, grief, pain, and fear is heavy stuff, but it’s what compassionate people do, and as members of the human race, we’re obligated to show up as the best version of ourselves when others are in need.

I sent a screen grab from something I read while talking to (what seemed like) scores of women who had just suffered a job loss, and it contained the following words:

She said, “I’m just not giving up. The woman I’ll be in a few years from now is counting on me.” And the world shifted.

Now, you can replace “she” and “woman” with “they” and “person” very easily and not dilute the intent. Think about something inspirational that has been shared with you in the past and pass it along to someone in need. Help them build their resilience by sharing stories (like you’re not alone) and helping them develop their network by encouraging them to leverage your own network or organizations you’re affiliated with. Use the new year to reach out to those you know who have been dealing with job loss and let them know that they’re on your mind and that you’re thinking of them in the best ways possible.  I’m happy to report that one of the wonderful people that were impacted by our layoffs was open and vulnerable about what they wanted and what they derserved.  That helped me understand how I could best help them, as they took one of my suggestions and now are happily employed.  Encourage people struggling with job loss to be as open as possible.  It’s truly their path to building resilience.

Do Overs – Managing judgment, worry, patience and encouragement

Before I dive in, I wanted to add the word ‘ego’ to the list above as that’s taken a hit since my 25-year-old son moved in with me in March of 2023 (but I’m keeping my keywords to 4 for each section 😊). Finances and a toxic relationship drove the need for him to be in a safe place so he could get back on his feet physically and emotionally. I knew he was struggling and longed for ways to help him while he was living over 1,000 miles away from me. “Of course you can come home” was an easy response as I felt if he was under my roof I would be in a better position to support him and give him what he needs. This was then followed by bouts of stress and panic as my quiet 2BR condo that I had been living alone in for more than two years would now be shared with another adult, impacting my space and privacy.

I’m happy to report that he found a job he loves within two weeks of landing in Chicago. He’s fighting for his first promotion and learning workplace politics. The biggest challenge was managing my judgment of his choices and career goals. He is in the hospitality industry and desires a very non-traditional career path. I know he’s not a corporate guy and has the most loving heart in the world. At the end of the day, I had to suppress my concerns regarding his career visions and embrace him for who he is as a human being (#awesome) and then my son. I know people have judged me as a parent for this current situation, and believe me, in the beginning, I asked myself, "What did I do wrong?”  Nine months later, I have learned that it’s more important to support his dreams and desires to give back, which is all a parent who wants to raise a contributing member to society desires. His dreams are just that, his – not mine. 

Are we still working on ways to accelerate his independence? Yes. Do I care anymore about what people think? No. Have I seen what patience (and a little prayer) can do? Yes, this kid works best when working at his own pace instead of daily nagging, judging, and pressure. Accountability is on the rise as there’s something to be said for flavors of tough love. While it hasn’t been perfect, I remain happy that he came back and will easily admit that I’ll be even happier when he moves out as a mentally stronger and more confident person. Embrace your loved ones and their hopes and dreams in the most encouraging ways.

The Road Less Traveled is an amazing read -  the very first sentence is,  “Life is Difficult”. Divorce, Layoffs, and inconvenient Do Overs definitely qualify when it comes to just a few of the thousands of challenges life will bring us. At the end of the day, the timeless advice of the Greek philosopher Epictetus is essential to remember. “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”  Let this be a beautiful reminder of the importance of our attitude when life gets challenging. The power of how we feel, react, and love is in our hands as we choose how we will respond to certain situations.

I hope 2024 brings you happiness, fulfillment, and joy, but when it does bring you challenges, remember the importance of how you react is what matters the most, for you and the people around you.

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