A while back, I hit a big milestone birthday: 40.
I always thought forty would be a pretty big celebration of "Hell yeah! I'm killin' it at this life thing! GO ME!"
I had a lot of expectations for forty.
I expected to be married. I expected that life would begin to really settle in and feel safe and secure. I expected that my career would be at an all-time high and still climbing. I expected that I'd have enough financial security to allow me occasional travel and a splurge once in a while. I expected that I would be incredibly content with my simple life.
Remarkably (and to my parents' surprise, I'm sure), I had all of those things at forty. I had achieved my goals!
But then, just 5 weeks after that milestone birthday, my life was rocked harder than the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Job loss and divorce simultaneously showed up and kicked my ass. It was total collapse. Fiery destruction and rubble left everywhere.
Forty began to suck. Hard.
I sat in sadness for a long time. I wallowed in my pain and replayed what others had done to me. I made mental lists of how I'd failed myself, and how others had failed me. I felt betrayed and hurt and wronged. I shamelessly placed the blame on anyone but myself.
And then one day, I woke up to find myself stuck in a serious mid-life crisis that was inescapable without some massive self-intervention.
Before I turned 41, with a lot of hard work and determination (and a really amazing life coach who supported me while I waddled through the mud), I successfully turned my life - and my attitude - around. Here are five things that were absolutely required:
1. FORGIVE YOURSELF.
There's nothing quite like the forgiveness that we receive when we are the ones offering it.
Forgiveness should be intentional and voluntary. Agree to stop being resentful of things that you've done to yourself. Allowing the gentleness to say "I forgive you" to yourself will create free space for loving yourself more.
If you've hurt someone and you can't stop beating yourself up over it, made amends. Whether that's a phone call, a personal visit, or a letter that you write and send (or don't send), do something that allows you to forgive yourself for what happened. The other person may or may not say "I forgive you," but the important thing is that you can say it to yourself.
Forgiveness also is good for your physical being. Studies show that forgiveness lowers blood pressure, decreases the risk of depression, increases self-esteem, and provides you a stronger immune system.
2. BE ALONE.
During the hardest moments of my life, I have found that the most inspiring and self-empowering moments came while I was completely alone. I would shore myself up in my bedroom, or stay in my car for an hour longer than I needed to, driving aimlessly just so that I could breathe.
In a world where digital communication is the norm, and where we are expected (or feel pressured to) respond immediately, being truly alone can be difficult. We are constantly bombarded with millions of digitally connected people who are ready to engage us.
There are damaging effects from being continuously online and engaged with our social media community. We compare ourselves to others. We become dependent on their praise and likes and retweets. We constantly feel the need to impress. We are always 'on.' This destroys our sense of self-worth by replacing it with a perceived worth from complete strangers.
Close your laptop and turn off your phone. If you have a landline, unplug it from the wall.
Sit with yourself. Whether you enjoy this moment as meditation, a nap, reading a book or watching a movie, make time to do something that you enjoy. Take pause occasionally, and appreciate yourself.
3. BE IN SERVICE TO OTHERS.
When we are in crisis, we become very narrowly focused on our own trauma or challenges, and we can easily neglect others. During the shock of my divorce, for instance, I found myself in survival mode - only doing what absolutely had to be done, and very little more.
In the process of rebuilding your ego during crisis, it's also easy to get caught up in the world of "I have to do what's best for ME." We are told that it's okay to be selfish at this time, because we need to turn inward and focus on ourselves.
I am here to tell you that while there's value in being self-focused, you will heal faster if you are focused on others as well.
Find an organization that you can support with your existing knowledge. Are you a spell-check junkie? Offer to tutor at the local middle school. Do you love to cook? Find a soup kitchen or homeless shelter that could use your lighting-fast carrot chopping skills. Even if you are an introvert (or are feeling very introverted while in crisis), you can contribute to Wikipedia, write a thank you letter to a friend or favorite author, or commit to cheering on ten friends or sharing their accomplishments on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.
4. TRUST IN TOMORROW.
As cheesy as it may sound, tomorrow really is a blank slate. And you have the opportunity to fill it with whatever you choose. If you do it right, this can be the most exciting part of the journey forward.
Get out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left side, write down all the things that you want to say "NO" to from now on. It could be anything:
• The 3rd cup of coffee each morning.
• Dinner invitations from people who are draining.
• Self-inflicted expectations of perfection.
• Taking care of my neighbor's dog when they go on vacation.
Then, on the right side, replace those "NO" items with "YES" items:
• A big glass of water (with lemon, or with cucumber. With ice, or at room temperature).
• Boosting my ego by checking items off my To Do List each day.
• Inviting someone I love and respect to join me for dinner.
• Trusting that even if it's not perfect, it's mine and I created it.
• Taking a vacation of my own.
Beginning tomorrow, do your best to be this new version of you. Say no to things that aren't serving you, and say yes to things that you know will help you to grow and move forward. As you get more focused on this project, you will find yourself less focused on the past.
5. SLOW DOWN.
Wait to reply to that text or email.
Drive slower. Eat slower. Walk slower.
Notice where you are going and why.
Really listen to others. Notice when your mind is racing with what you're planning to say next.
Think before you speak. Think before you reply.
Instead of multi-tasking, Single-Task. Focus on one thing at a time. If you find yourself moving towards doing something else, forgive yourself (see #1) and bring yourself back to the first task until it's completed.
(I practiced this while writing this blog post. I nearly got up at least 4 times to make a cup of tea, but promised myself I'd finish this post first!)
The world does not require us to be in constant movement. You can slow down and everything will still happen as it should.
With careful focus and determination, you can get out of crisis mode and into a place where the future looks brilliant. I applaud you for each day you become better!
Do you have something you do that helps when you are in crisis? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.