What do you do when everything is dashed? When all the forces seem to have conspired to tear down everything you built up. Almost everyone has been hit in the gut by an event that rocks the world you know. Maybe it was a natural disaster like a hurricane or fire that destroyed your home, maybe it was the business you built that ended up in bankruptcy, maybe your 20-year marriage that ends in divorce, a long-term job that you love ends in a pink slip, or a health event that leaves you wondering if there will be any tomorrows.
It hurts, it numbs. There are no words that convey the sense of desperation and emptiness you feel. All the cliques like “it’s God’s will” or “tomorrow is a new day” fall empty on your ears. I’ve been there. It’s lonely.
In 1989 I came to the U.S. with my husband, who is American, two children, a few suitcases and a couple thousand dollars. The economy in Ireland was in shambles, and we came in hope of finding the “American Dream.” Leaving behind my mom, my homeland, and a good job, I was now a persona non-gratis in the U.S. I had been working on my degree but had a hard time without a degree getting a job equivalent to what I had in Ireland. My past and everything I had built up was irrelevant. I was reduced to my Social Security number. It was hard, to start at the bottom again, and slowly build up a new life and new career. There were many, many nights of tears, missing everything I had known, and learning everything new.
Here are some things that helped me along the way:
1. You Are Not A Failure
Just because you make a mistake or some catastrophe happens doesn’t make you a failure. At the end of our lives, most of us regret the things we didn’t try, not the things we tried that didn’t work. Too often we equate a bad situation with the belief that we are bad, that we are flawed, that we have failed. An event doesn’t define who you are as a person. Bad things happen to good people. Examine the event to see what you can learn, but don’t let the event define you going forward.
2. Be Patient
This sounds like one of those cliques, but each day just do the one next thing to move one step forward. Everything you built up to now took time, maybe a lifetime. Rebuilding is a slow process. Start with a sound positive foundation, don’t rush to fill the void with things that will bring the greater pain.
3. Leave the Old Behind
This can be really hard to do when we are forced to start over. How do you leave behind that long-term relationship or the job you loved? We may have lost mementos, family photos, things that held a special place in our hearts. Leaving the old behind is always hard – we fear what we don’t know. It is hard not to feel like you have lost your identity. Cherish the memories and the experiences but accept you cannot undo what has happened. Staying in the moment now is really important and will get easier over time. Change is hard. Small progress will help pave the way for moving forward.
4. Have an End in Mind
As hard as it is the past is past. Going forward, what opportunity can your new future bring? Given that you can’t go back, what do you want the future to look like? Is this an opportunity to do something new or different that you would never have considered before? Dare to dream, dare to speak good things for yourself, be open in your heart and spirit to a new future.
5. The Gratitude Habit
It is trite to say “there is always someone in a worse situation than you.” Right now you probably don’t think that or care about being grateful. You hurt, you are confused. Focusing on even the tiniest thing, like sunshine in the day, or the fact you are alive, one small thing you can be grateful for today, can make a difference. Try to spend some time, even a couple of minutes each day, focusing on the positive.
Take time this week to cherish the memories from the past. Write down the things you miss most. Write down ways you can replicate or replace these in your life now. Keeping a journal of your journey through this time will bring great insights.
Do you have a starting over story? I would love to hear your story and how you coped with starting over.