“People never learn anything by being told,
they have to find out for themselves.”
Today marks the five-year anniversary of a close friend’s unexpected passing. This morning I caught myself reflecting on that dreary morning when I received the news, and how several colleagues and acquaintances whom I barely knew came up to me over the subsequent hours and gave me a pat on the back, a hug, or a genuine “I’m sorry.”
In the midst of my sorrow I now realize this tragic loss taught me three important things. First, the worst things can happen to the best people for no obvious reason at all. Second, most people, even the ones you don’t think care, are genuinely good people who do care. And finally, just as it is difficult to see all the opportunities life gives you until you’re looking back, it is virtually impossible to fully understand certain life circumstances until they actually happen to you.
It’s a variation of this final point that I want to explore further today – seven important life lessons almost everyone learns the hard way, eventually.
1. The people you lose remain a part of you.
Someday you will be faced with the reality of loss. And as life goes on, days rolling into nights, it will become clear that you never really stop missing someone special who’s gone, you just learn to live around the gaping hole of their absence.
When you lose someone you can’t imagine living without, your heart breaks wide open, and the bad news is you never completely get over the loss. You will never forget them. However, in a backwards way, this is also the good news. They will live on in the warmth of your broken heart that doesn’t fully heal back up, and you will continue to grow and experience life, even with your wound. It’s like badly breaking an ankle that never heals perfectly, and that still hurts when you dance, but you dance anyway with a slight limp, and this limp just adds to the depth of your performance and the authenticity of your character.
2. The pursuit of happiness is about finding meaning.
Pursuing happiness is not at all the same as being happy, which is a fleeting feeling dependent on momentary circumstances. If the sun is shining, by all means bask in it. Happy times are great and often fun-filled, but happy times pass, because time passes. This is something we rarely grasp at first.
The lifelong pursuit of happiness, on the other hand, is more elusive; it’s not based on a particular outcome. What you are really pursuing is meaning – living a meaningful life. It starts with your “why.” (Why are you doing what you’re doing with your life?) When your “why” is meaningful, you are pursuing happiness. There will be times when things go so wrong that you barely feel alive. And there will also be times when you realize that being barely alive, on your own terms, is better than living a lifeless existence for eighty years on someone else’s terms. The pursuit isn’t all or nothing; it’s all AND nothing, with ups and downs and worthwhile lessons along the way.
In other words, happiness comes most easily when you know what you’re doing, believe in what you’re doing, and love what you’re doing (and who you’re doing it with), regardless of how things turn out. (Read The Happiness Hypothesis.)
3. Seeking validation from others invalidates YOU.
Has the fear of rejection held you back? Have you ever been so fearful of what others might think or say about you that it kept you from taking positive action? I bet you’re shaking your head, “yes.”
It’s time to change your mindset…
Today, the only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday. Prove yourself to yourself, not others. You are GOOD enough, SMART enough, FINE enough, and STRONG enough. You don’t need other people to validate you; you are already valuable.
If someone says “no” to you, or if someone says something negative about you, that doesn’t change anything about YOU. The words and opinions of others have no real bearing on your worth. Certainly it can be helpful and desirable to make a good impression in certain situations, yet it’s not the end of the world when you are faced with rejection.
It’s great to receive positive feedback, but it simply doesn’t always happen. That’s OK though, because you know where you’re headed and you know your true worth does not depend on the judgment of others. When you set out to make a true difference in life, there will be those who disagree with you, those who ignore you, and those who flat out reject your ideas and efforts. Look beyond them, step confidently forward, do what must be done, and let them think what they will.
4. Regret hurts far worse than fear.
When we give in to our fears, we have a harder time looking at ourselves in the mirror. Sadly, very few of us escape learning this lesson firsthand. If you have already experienced this a time or two, you know what you need to do.
It is only when we risk losing that we truly open the possibility to win. Whether it is quitting your job to build a business, running a marathon, or traveling to unknown parts of the world, any worthy endeavor requires risk, struggle and sacrifice. Some of these things may even terrify you, but ask yourself if these fears are stronger than the most powerful of fears, the fear of a wasted life?
If you’ve never lost your mind, you’ve never followed your heart. It’s better to look back on life and say, “I can’t believe I did that,” than to look back and say, “I wish I did that.” Don’t let time pass you by like a hand waving from a train you desperately want to be on. Don’t spend the rest of your life thinking about why you didn’t do what you can do right now. Live your life. Take risks. Feel passion. Discover love. Run free. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Passion and Growth” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
5. Life is too unpredictable for rigid expectations.
When you stop predicting and expecting things to be a certain way, you can appreciate them for what they are. Ultimately you will realize that life’s greatest gifts are rarely wrapped the way you expected.
With a positive attitude and an open mind, you will find that life isn’t necessarily any easier or harder than you thought it was going to be; it’s just that “the easy” and “the hard” aren’t exactly the way you had anticipated, and don’t always occur when you expect them to. This isn’t a bad thing; it makes life interesting.
Ninety-nine percent of the time life delivers the experiences that are most helpful for your personal growth. How do you know it’s the experience you need? Because it’s the experience you’re having. The only question is: Will you embrace it and grow, or fight it and fade?
The key, of course, is to accept that not everything is meant to be. When things don’t turn out how you expected, you have to seriously sit down with yourself and come to grips with the fact that you were wrong about it all along. It was just an illusion that never really was what you thought it was. It’s one of the most difficult realizations to accept, to realize that you feel a sense of loss, even though you never really had what you thought you had in the first place.
6. When you try to run away, you end up running in place.
“Don’t think about eating that chocolate donut!” What are you thinking about now? Eating that chocolate donut, right? When you focus on not thinking about something, you end up thinking about it.
The same philosophy holds true when it comes to freeing your mind from a negative past experience. By persistently trying to move away from what you didn’t like and don’t want, you are forced to think about it so much that you end up carrying it’s weight along with you. But if you instead choose to focus your energy on moving toward something you do like and do want, you naturally leave the negative weight behind as you progress forward.
Bottom line: Running away from your problems is a race you’ll never win. Move TOWARDS something instead of AWAY. Rather than trying to eliminate the negative, focus on creating something positive that just happens to replace the negative. (Read The Road Less Traveled.)
7. Unanticipated hardships are inevitable and helpful.
Nobody in this world is going to blindside you and hit you as hard as life will. Sometimes life will beat you to the ground and try to keep you there if you let it. But it’s not about how hard life can hit you, it’s about how hard you can be hit while continuing to move forward. That’s what true strength is, and that’s what winning the game of life is all about.
When you have a lot to cry and complain about, but you prefer to smile and take a step forward instead, you are growing stronger. Work through your struggles and hardships. Even when it feels like things are falling apart, they’re not. Take control of your emotions before they take control of you. Everything will fall into place eventually. Until then, learn what you can, laugh often, live for the moments, and know that it’s all worthwhile in the end.
Gandhi once said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” I love this quote. There’s no doubt that every day is a gift, and the gift is an opportunity to live, to learn, and to grow.
Be a student of life. Indulge in it and absorb all the knowledge you can, while you can. You may have to loose some things to gain some things, and you may have to learn some things the hard way. That’s OK. All experiences are necessary. The purpose of your life is to live it in full, to partake in it to the utmost, to reach out with an open mind and an honest heart for the newest and richest experience being offered.
What would you add to this list? What important life lessons have you learned the hard way? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with the community.
Photo by: Sam LLic
Some of the most important lessons in life are those we learn the hard way. It’s not that there isn’t plenty of advice around, but somehow we always feel that there will be time ‘later’ or that we will be the exception.
There’s a great quotation that goes,“The difference between school and life is that school teaches you a lesson and then gives you a test. Life gives you a test and then you learn the lesson.”
Following is a collection of a few of life’s hard-earned lessons. See if you agree, and feel free to share if you have others you’d like to add.
Life Lessons 101
- Sometimes things happen that make no sense at all, you ask yourself how can one person willfully hurt another? It is more of a statement of disbelief than a question. All we could hope for is that our collective voice against the inhumanity of the few and our universal desire to live in a compassionate filled world extinguish the fire of hatred others have spawned. Let us not forsake our humanity. ~Dodinsky
- There are things in life we don’t want to happen but have to accept; things we don’t want to know but have to learn, and people we can’t live without, but have to let go. ~Author Unknown
- The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These people have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
- As you get older you find out that true happiness is not in how much you make, how many degrees you have, how big your house is or how fancy your car is. It’s finding peace, joy, and calmness in your life that comes from genuine self-acceptance and relationships that will soon become the most important thing to you. ~Author Unknown
- No matter who tries to teach you lessons about life, you won’t understand it until you go through it on your own. ~Author Unknown
- One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon – instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today. ~Dale Carnegie
- Not making a choice is a choice. Letting things happen by default is a choice. If we choose to give up our right to make a choice – we have made a choice. We always have choices, even if we do not like the ones available. ~Rachelle Disbennette-Lee
- Clutter isn’t just the stuff in your closet. It’s anything that gets between you and the life that you want to be living, whether it is in your home, in your head, in your heart or on your hips. ~Peter Walsh
- You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don’t know it, all of that doesn’t even matter. Every second that you spend doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away. It’s not like you have forever, so don’t waste any of your seconds, don’t throw even one of your moments away. ~C. JoyBell C.
- The greatest challenge in life is discovering who you are … the second greatest is being happy with what you find. ~Author Unknown
- You cannot always count on others to respect your feelings, even if you respect theirs. Being a good person doesn’t guarantee that others will be good people too. You only have control over yourself and how you choose to be as a person. As for others, you can only choose to accept them or walk away. ~Author Unknown
- The world is full of abundance and opportunity, but far too many people come to the fountain of life with a sieve instead of a tank car, a teaspoon instead of a steam shovel. They expect little and, as a result, they get little. ~Ben Sweetland
- In the absence of clearly defined intentions, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia. ~Author Unknown
- One of the greatest challenges in creating a joyful, peaceful and abundant life is taking responsibility for what you do and how you do it. As long as you can blame someone else for your choices, be angry with someone else, point the finger at someone else, you are not taking responsibility for your life. ~Iyanla Vanzant
- Pursuing happiness is not the same as being happy. Happy times are great and often fun-filled, but happy times pass because time passes. The lifelong pursuit of happiness, on the other hand, is more elusive; it’s not based on a particular outcome. What you are really pursuing is meaning. ~Author Unknown
- Looking for love can feel like searching for a missing piece of your heart. You will keep looking for that one special person who will complete you until you finally realize that person is … you. ~Doe Zantamata
- When people walk away from you, let them go. Your destiny is never tied to anyone who leaves you, and it doesn’t mean they are bad people. It just means that their part in your story is over. ~Author Unknown
- Some people think resilience means you never feel FEAR. In reality, the strongest people feel, understand and take responsibility for it; they just refuse to be DEFINED by it. ~Marquita Herald
- It’s NOT your fault if someone you care about chooses to be unhappy. You can be kind, thoughtful and loving, but you can’t FIX someone else or control whether they choose happiness or unhappiness. The best thing you can do is to pray for that person’s well-being and embrace your own happiness. ~Author Unknown
- When you try to run away, you end up running in place. Move TOWARDS something instead of AWAY. Rather than trying to eliminate the negative, focus on creating something positive that just happens to replace the negative. ~Marc Chernoff
- Anyone can hold a grudge, but it takes a person with character to forgive. When you forgive, you release yourself from a painful burden. Forgiveness doesn’t mean what happened was okay, and it doesn’t even mean that person should be welcome in your life. It just means you have made peace with the pain and are ready to let it go. ~Author Unknown
- The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Family members can be your best friends and best friends, whether or not they are related to you, can be your family. ~Author Unknown
- Somebody should tell us, right from the start of our lives that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows. ~Pope Paul VI
- Sometimes the things we complain most about are the things we care most about. Unfortunately, we don’t always realize that until it’s too late. ~Author Unknown
- Life shouldn’t be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid sideways, chocolate in one hand, latte in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOOHOO what a ride!!!
It’s said that the most common end of life regret is not having had the courage to live a life true to oneself, rather than the life others expected of them. While interpretations of this statement will surely vary from person to person, I believe the underlying theme has to do with the quality of life.
Specifically, mustering the courage to risk living a little larger than we’re comfortable with so that we might truly savor more of what life has to offer.
Be honest with yourself about what you want, don’t leave the china and crystal to gather dust, use it! Fulfill more dreams, love more, kiss more, take more chances, be a beginner more, make more mistakes and above all, let yourself be happy more.
Will you be the passenger or the driver in your life journey?
About Marquita A. Herald
Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.
She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.
To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living click “here“.
Tags: Adaptability, Choices, Inspiring Quotations, Life Lessons, Self Acceptance