MINDSET: Life’s rough patches a time to reconsider your purpose
BY DR. DELISE DICKARD / FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
MARTHA BECK was almost killed three times in six months. She was in a car accident, a high-rise fire and had a severe autoimmune reaction to an unexpected pregnancy. By the time her baby was diagnosed with Down syndrome, she was already overloaded.
You wouldn’t know any of this by looking at Beck’s website, where she’s wearing comfy skinny jeans and a warm smile.
Beck is the author of many books, including the best-selling “Leaving the Saints.” She’s also a columnist for Oprah’s O magazine. A Harvard educated sociologist and life coach, Beck calls life’s rough patches “rumble strips.”
She describes the “rumble strips” we occasionally encounter as a string of seemingly unfortunate events that can also be an opportunity to rethink our direction or purpose.
What does one do when hit with a string of difficulties that seems to block the path we intended for our life? If the phrase “take it as an opportunity to reconsider your direction” makes you want to gag, then you may need a little more rumbling before you decide to take heed. And if that’s the case, then tuck the suggestions I give below away for later.
But if you’re ready to reframe your “rumble strips” as opportunities, consider these ideas:
First, put on the brakes. Beck suggests this simple routine: eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. I would add “breathe.”
Of course this sounds rudimentary, but if you’ve been rumbled enough then maybe you are off your beaten path and in the weeds. Slowing down
will give you a chance to reconsider your direction.
Beck had been working toward her third Harvard degree when she hit her rumble strip. She was forced to loosen her attachment to the degree, and it wasn’t until then that she began to recognize a greater purpose for her life.
Throw your mind into reverse. Once you slow down, it becomes easier to throw your mind into reverse. This is a time for reassessment.
Maybe the divorce you experienced as a failure was really an important learning experience. Maybe a job loss causes you to rethink your life’s primary purpose.
We have to let go of our attachment to seeing our problems as disasters before we can embrace what new learning might occur because of the problem.
If you’ve been rumbled enough, then try thinking of one possible positive outcome of the turmoil. Let go of the attachment to the old path and consider the possibility that life is taking you on a new path.
What is one positive thing you can hang onto through your difficulties?
“Find newer, smooth terrain,” Beck suggests. It may be hard to spot the smooth terrain until you’ve put the brakes on your previous destination. So this step initially may be accompanied by a fair amount of fear; the “known,” even if it’s problematic, might feel more comfortable than the potentially smooth terrain of the “unknown.”
But when I ask people what they need to do next, they often know right away. In many cases, people have easily identified the new potentially smooth terrain that they want for their lives. Still, the fear of change can be crippling.
Questions like—Will I be able to get a new job? Will I ever find love again?—might be on your mind as you consider going through a divorce or a job change.
Here are some thoughts to help minimize this crippling fear:
Don’t let fear get in the way. Consider this great quote by one of my favorite artists, Georgia O’Keeffe. She said: “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, and I’ve never let it stop me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”
Many would suggest we feel the fear and move toward our life’s purpose anyway. Remember that fear accompanies any change—even good change can be scary.
Trust yourself. Only one person has to live with every decision you make, and that’s you.
Remember that not deciding is also a decision, with ramifications that are probably just as great as a conscious decision.
After making a decision, faith in yourself or a higher power can be an important ingredient as you move through a big or difficult change in your life.
Consider the new direction as an open door. You won’t know what’s in store for you in this new direction until you get there. Try to approach the new possibilities with a spirit of curiosity rather than fear.
How did Beck fare in navigating her rumble strips? She shares in her O magazine column this month: “I learn[ed] the lesson my true self needed me to learn: that no brass ring is worth a damn compared with the one thing that makes life worth living—love.”
Did life bring her a rumble strip so she could learn the valuable lesson she shares with us now?
I like to think so.
Dr. Delise Dickard, a licensed professional counselor, is the director of Riverside Counseling. She welcomes reader comments and questions. For contact information, see riversidecounseling.org.