We are all like little locomotives traveling down our particular tracks in order to get from point A to point B. But what happens when there are problems along our journey? To illustrate this analogy I recently took a train trip which I thought was a simple route. The trip ended up taking ten hours instead of six hours due to delays in boarding, problems with the tracks and with the electrical system. The train would stall periodically and we would have to sit with no power for an hour or more as they attempted to fix things. My stress level increased each time the train conductor would come back to inform us of a further delay. This journey was not what I had expected upon boarding that train. I felt more and more helpless and began to wonder if I would ever get home again.
To conclude my story, I did make it home again, beleaguered, weary, but extremely grateful. I was that much more appreciative of home. You probably already know where I am going with this. Life is such a journey, fraught with unexpected delays and setbacks, leaving you to constantly wonder if you will ever get back on track. I am here to tell you that it is possible to continue on despite life's challenges.
There are many things in life which can "derail" us including: Any type of loss, financial woes, relationship problems, job instability or unemployment, physical illness, and mental illness including depression. There are some people who have to cope with multiple stressors happening all at once. Others are derailed by setbacks which delay the achievement of personal goals. For many of us, there will come a time when we must accept that some of our aspirations will not come true. With so much possibility for unexpected derailment, how do we keep going? How do we persevere?
Here are some ways to get back on track with your life and move forward:
- You have to accept that you cannot go back in time. If we want to adapt to our circumstances we can't remain in the past wishing that things stay the same. Things will never be as they were and no amount of wishing will make it so. Most of us will need a period of time to grieve and mourn our losses. But we cannot stay within that mourning forever or we can never move forward with our life journey.
- Take stock of what you have right now. If you are in constant distress about what you feel you do not have, you may miss the opportunity to see what is right in front of you. Gratitude is sometimes born from loss. It is the understanding that most things in life can be taken away so it is imperative to be thankful for what we do have at any given time.
- Believe that you can begin again. Sometimes this belief is all you have. There are those of us who will feel much like the biblical Job did, tested beyond our spiritual and human limits. The world is full of such stories of people who survive unimaginable life circumstances only to rebuild their life and serve others in the process. Look to these people as inspiration to know that it is possible to pick up the pieces and start a new life.
- When things are still and you are in between crises, this is the time when you should work the hardest. Cultivate friendships and connections. Build up your support system. Examine your life's goals and where you want to go. Look for opportunities for joy and create happy memories to store in your psychic larder. If you simply sit around and wait for the next bad thing to happen, you will have wasted all this precious time living in the fear of the future.
- You must never believe that you are a bad person because bad things have happen to you. So many of life's circumstances can leave a lasting residue of lowered self esteem, guilt, and shame. Suffering from depression, for example, can be a vicious feedback loop of despair and then guilt for feeling that despair. You are a good person who has survived extraordinary challenges including depression.
- Separate "needs" versus "wants." When you get right down to it, we humans can survive with very little. While it is good and healthy to want things, it is not healthy to put our emotional well being at stake for not getting all of our wants met. We can still be happy even if we don't get the new car, the new house, or the perfect new relationship. Prioritize as to what you really need with regard to both material and emotional sustenance.
- Expect the unexpected. Life is never going to be exactly what you expect. Look back in your own life to five years ago, ten years ago, or even twenty years ago and can you honestly say that things have gone as you predicted? I sure can't. There are things in my life I could have never dreamed of happening but here I am and having to adapt. Life is a series of adaptations and subsequent transformations.
- Create a mantra to get you through the bad times. It should be something from your core, a human mission statement of sorts. It could be something simple like, "I am here to love," or "I am here to learn," or "I will share my journey to help others." Imagine that you are in the eye of a hurricane where there is a patch of blue sky and stillness. No matter what sort of storm is brewing around you, you still have a core purpose.
Getting derailed is part of the human experience. It is going to happen. But it doesn't mean that life is over. It may mean a great change in attitude and expectations. It may mean that what you had hoped for won't happen. But it doesn't mean that you can't ever be happy again. Don't wait for happiness to happen when your life is perfect because it never will be. The key to living a joyful life is to find ways to be happy during those times when we are sitting in the passenger car of a train which has stalled and gotten off its tracks. It is possible to continue your journey; you may just have to take another route.