2022 has been the worst of times and the best of times. For me, it has been the year where I have been forced (much to my relief) to strip away the lie of the fairy tale and to accept the turbulence and holy beauty of the adventure.
Life is not a fairy tale.
As adults, we mentally assent to the notion that life comes with curve balls, based on the things we’ve experienced. And yet, we still plan our lives as if we were the central character in a fairy tale, hoping that one day (after we meet our proverbial prince of eternal bliss) that life will cease to present us with struggles.
Ever heard the saying: life is what happens when we’re making other plans? What if we didn’t have to live in this dichotomy of experience? What if there was a way to lean into the actual reality of life, instead of trying to buffer ourselves from the inevitable challenges we will face?
I started out the year blissfully planning my business projects, without an inclination of the curve balls that I would face. Now, with the power of hindsight, I can reflect on my experiences and offer up some of my learnings on how to manage the unexpected twists and turns on our journey.
The first step in conquering the enemy, is knowing the enemy. Not all curve balls are equal.
Types of curve balls
- Blindsides: These are things that hit you seemingly out of nowhere and leave you literally gasping for air. This could be sudden, like getting a call to inform you about the death of a friend or family member. Or you go into the office one morning and are told the company has been liquidated. These are obviously the most difficult curve balls to navigate because you didn’t see it coming.
- Gradual: They can also appear like a volcanic eruption, when a low lying problem suddenly demands immediate attention. Maybe you were able to manage relational challenges until one conversation brings up volatility to the surface that can’t no longer be ignored. The things that were bearable become unbearable and things need to change.
- Unexpected: You were happily moving along your days and something surprising, like a slow shift in a close friendship, interrupts your emotional space. These are not necessarily negative but they do reveal a relational or financial imbalance that has to be addressed.
There is cold comfort in the knowledge that curve balls happen to everyone because when you are facing your own personal storms, it feels like you’re all alone.
We also tend to believe that we are the only ones suffering because the people around us look okay on the surface. Consider the fact that you too, appear normal and happy to others, even when you are having to navigate personal challenges.
I’ve had to deal with all three curve balls in 2022 (lucky me!). I noticed how I spent a lot of energy trying to resist the truth of what was happening. It felt ‘easier’ to avoid what was happening, because it was too painful.
And yes, often these curve balls hit us at the same time — a curve ball ‘storm’ if you will. While we can’t prevent the invisible curve balls of the future, what we can do, what I am learning how to do better, is to PLAN for the curve balls of the future.
If we have a plan of action for the next curve ball we face, we will feel better able to handle the ‘attack’ on our mental health. So, here is my experiential, five step plan to tackle the next curve ball that comes your way:
1. Acknowledge the damage: Our immediate reaction when hit by a curve ball is to try to defend ourselves through denial. There is deep pain caused by the traumatic events encased in curve balls. Feel the pain. It’s the only way to move on to the next stage of recovery.
You are taking a hit: spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically. Take the time and space you need to attend to the areas that need recovery. We can’t operate as robots. There is no shame in being human!
2. Get help: You don’t have to face the pain on your own. In the 2022 WHO Report on Mental Health, which outlines the growing global mental health crisis, researches highlighted that millions of people are suffering in silence because of the stigma around accessing professional help.
There is no way I would’ve overcome the curve balls I faced this year without help from various sources. Reach out to your spiritual leaders, close friends, seek counselling and other forms of professional help. Leaning into your tribe is crucial to help you rebuild your strength.
Vulnerability is a form of strength. When you are honest (with safe people) about what is really going on in your life, you find the support you need to help build fresh perspectives.
3. Lean into course corrections: Curve balls require us to pay attention to what’s really going on in our hearts and minds. If we allow it, it creates the opportunity to refocus on things that truly matter. In my experience this year, letting go of my own plan for writing projects was not the end of the world.
The only thing it bruised was my ego. I had to admit that I couldn’t do everything I wanted to, all the time. I am not just a business owner. I am, first and foremost, a whole woman. A wife and mother. These primary roles are fundamental to my existence. They inform my identity.
Business projects can be dropped and picked up again. Relationships, on the other hand, require intentional and constant cultivation. Our course of action on achieving a goal is not linear. We have to plan for turbulence, or we will face debilitating frustration.
Maybe a course correction that comes from a curve ball will require you to reassess a long held vision or an aspect of your purpose. It might mean that you see yourself going in a different direction from what you were on for over a decade (in the case of my husband and I).
This deeply affects our sense of self, especially if we have been relying on our activities as a source of external validation. Who are you when you can’t do what you used to do?
4. Commit to the new course: When we experience curve balls, it often requires immediate action. And this action will likely alter the direction you’ve been moving in. You might need to put some projects on hold as you deal with the issues at hand. (I had to shift my focus in big ways and take on a consulting role which I probably wouldn’t have considered pre-curve ball storm).
You might also need to step back from some commitments to give yourself time to process what’s happened. The most difficult aspect of this stage of the process is to let things go. To let go of what you thought was a good idea in terms of how you used your time, the work you were doing, volunteer projects etc.
It might not feel like it at the time but these course corrections that are precipitated by curve balls can actually help us get back on track. Refocusing on my family was absolutely necessary this year and as I did that, I felt strong enough to take on new challenges that were more in line with my ultimate life plan.
The best result of my course corrective year was my opportunity to present my first Tedx Talk at the University of Johannesburg. It felt like a full circle moment. I started my second career as a fundraiser while working at the University of Johannesburg and discovered my third career, nine years later, while working at Stellenbosch University.
It felt ‘right’ for me to be on that stage, to finally have an impossible dream come true. As I walked of the stage, it felt like something clicked in place for me. There is no other way to describe it as an unshakeable certainty that I am living, loving and working from my whole, authentic self and that I am on the right path of purpose.
That talk was a key to impart inspiration to new groups of people with the message of wholeness. There can be a flourishing in the midst of dealing with the aftermath of curve balls.
New destinations require new maps. You can’t keep doing the same things you’ve done before if life is pulling you in a new direction. Which brings us to the final step.
5. Trust the compass: When I teach about wholeness, I always share how the connection between head and heart is essential to operating from our true selves. This is a process that requires letting go of who we made ourselves to be because of expectations and necessity and to ‘release our inner music’.
This is a time when looking back is helpful only if you reflect on things you’ve been able to grow from in the past. There can be positive growth from traumatic experiences. In fact, there is an evolving body of research around post traumatic growth, which shows how we’re able to find meaning in the inevitable suffering we will face.
As someone who has experienced multiple forms of trauma in my life, I can attest to this. This year, when hit by various curve balls, I often fell back on the thought: “I survived a cult*. I can get through this.”
I am no longer wishing them away curve balls (fairy tale thinking) but rather planning for them as I plot the next few steps I take.
Once we truly know that life is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then life is no longer difficult. M Scott Peck
I used to keep this quote on my wall to serve as a reminder that what I experience is part of the universal human experience. And to his quote, I add:
Suffering is inevitable. What you do with your pain, determines the ultimate level of success in life. Cheryl Benadie
*Yes, I mentioned a cult. Watch my Tedx talk to find out how that was a wholeness wake up call for my life.
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