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Blog Short #57: When Bad Things Happen

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Photo by FluxFactory, Courtesy of iStock Photo

No one can escape having something bad happen at some time or other in their life. We live on a seesaw that can’t remain in one position. It goes up and down, and we go up and down with it. It’s just the way things are. The choice we have is in how we respond.

My favorite quote that speaks to this predicament comes from Dr. Seuss. He says:

“When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”

Obviously, the best choice is to let it strengthen you. But what exactly does that mean?

It might mean just plowing straight ahead and keeping yourself steady as you take action to make repairs. Or it might mean not falling into a victim mode and repeatedly replaying the lament “Why me?” It could also mean taking time out to extract something of value you can use to take your next steps in a meaningful way that lends greater purpose to your life.

All these could occur simultaneously, but the one I want to focus on today is the last one. The question is:

Even in the worst of events that disrupt your life and create emotional pain, what can you take from it that provides some added purpose to keep going?

Here are some examples of people who have done this very well.

The man who, as a child, was brutally beaten and experienced many broken bones and bruises at the hands of an abusive stepfather became a world-renowned surgeon that helps put people’s broken bodies back together after physical trauma.

The parent who lost a child in a school shooting took up the cause of gun control.

The victim of an accident became a paraplegic and went on to champion medical research in the area of paralysis.

In each of these cases, the events that were horrific and totally disruptive to each person’s life were used to refocus on a new purpose that would benefit others.

I would hope as I write this that nothing that traumatic happens to any of you, but we do all experience unexpected downturns or negative events that sometimes stop us in our tracks and make us re-evaluate our lives.

Here’s the silver lining I see in these events, and how to use them in a way that makes something good out of something bad.

New Insights Gained

When I was in my early 30s, I became ill. It was out of the blue, and at first, seemed like something that would go away in a couple of months. However, it dragged on and on and slowly receded over about five years. There was no treatment at the time, and most physicians I approached just passed it off as depression, even though I knew this was not the case. It disrupted my life. I was early in my career and I had to quit working, pack up my stuff, and move home with my parents.

It was hard – certainly – but it gave me a lot of time to think!

As I dealt with the physical reality and disruptive aspects of the experience, emotional insights sprung up that sharpened things which ultimately were very helpful. For starters, the whole experience humbled me. It made me have sympathy for people who are disabled – in a real way. It made me want to listen to people with an open mind and not put everyone in a diagnostic box, as my physicians had done with me. It gave me understanding and empathy for older people whose bodies betray them as they age. I understood pain in a way I hadn’t before, and I became a much better listener.

As it turns out, I had a bad case of the Epstein-Barr virus which at that time was barely on the medical radar. There’s a lot more known about it today.

Although I wouldn’t wish to go through that again, I’m grateful for those insights I gained because they’ve permanently and positively affected how I work with people. And, I may never have had them without this experience.

Need for Connection

Negative experiences are isolating. They bring your life to a halt and focus you inward. In contrast, the world just keeps going.

You go to the grocery store and everyone appears to be going about their lives as though everything’s all right, but for you, nothing is right. You’re in a different space, and no one else sees it. You feel apart.

These events sharpen the need for connection. You feel vulnerable.

If you have a partner, good friends, or family, you may find that you need them more right now. If you’ve been in a broken relationship for a long time, you may feel pushed to re-evaluate.

Being vulnerable can be the impetus for seeking greater intimacy and connection, and conversely evaluating and letting go of relationships that drain you or are destructive. Either way, our connections are a significant part of our lives, and setting them right sooner than later is a benefit of being forced to take a look at them.

Permanent Change in Habits

Learning in hindsight is better than not learning at all. Negative experiences can be wake-up calls, or they can provide awareness of changes you need to make but have ignored or put on the back burner.

In my case with the illness I had, I started studying nutrition with a vengeance. Ultimately, I changed my dietary and exercise habits forever. I quit smoking, started eating clean, and doing mild exercise as soon as possible. I have continued to tweak my diet and exercise routines over years to maintain my health.

Experiencing something life-changing that’s painful usually brings with it a desire to take preventative measures or carve new paths to help avoid similar experiences again.

Sharpening Your Focus on What’s Important

In the daily stress of life, we shrink down to the minutiae of everyday living. Over time, we spend less and less time thinking in big pictures, or focusing on higher aspirations, or being aware of the passing of time. We’re heavily in the habitual grind, which makes it difficult to keep an awareness of what’s most important to us.

An unexpected bad event pulls us right out of that for a time and makes us question where we are. It sharpens our awareness of time, and how much we have, and what we’re doing with it. It stops us and forces us to question why we’re here. What’s our purpose, and what do we need to do to move in that direction while we still have time?

It’s like doing that exercise where you ask yourself what you would do if you had only five years or three years or one year left to live?

  • How would you spend your time?
  • What would you try to accomplish?
  • Who would you spend your time with?

Sometimes you might ask these questions without a push from some life-altering event, and if so, keep asking. But all too often we wait until we get that shove. Don’t wait. Ask it now.

And, when bad things happen, give yourself time to work through the initial pain, and then gather your insights and refocus on what’s most important to you.

That’s all for today. I’d love to hear about your experiences. Please leave a comment below.

I hope you have a great week!

All my best,


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