Though you may experience difficult times in your life, you do not necessarily have to suffer through them. If we can see that there are definitely silver linings, how do we go about finding them?
The Difficulties of Life
Life is very good at knocking us down, isn’t it? Not just knocking us down but kicking and spitting on us while we are down. It’s not enough that we’re nursing a split lip or a black eye – Life has to just pour it on, as if it’s obsessed with not letting us back up.
I know you’ve been through times like those. You may even be going through something like that right now.
I’ve had my fair share of difficult times as well.
At 25 I went through a terrible break up that caused me great pain for quite a long time. I spent that period of my life not really knowing who I was or what I was doing, dealing with self-doubt and wondering if I was ever going to get through it or ultimately find what I thought this relationship was supposed to be. I tried to fake it as much as I could but I often just didn’t like the reflection staring back at me in the mirror. I lost a lot of confidence and replaced it with self-loathing. For a time, I felt that I was not really worth much – that no one was really going to want me. Like there was something wrong with me.
At 28 I was granted a release from a recording contract that I’d signed only two years prior. This was supposed to have been my dream coming true. Instead, the record company had had no idea what they were doing, and had largely pivoted to other creative endeavors shortly after signing me. All my high hopes for the experience had been dashed early on, and I quickly went from thinking I was this brilliant musician, future-rock-star, to feeling like a nobody that didn’t have anything to offer. On top of that, I no longer owned a good deal of my best songs. I tried to convince myself that if I was anywhere near as talented as I thought I was, I could make more music, but in reality I had lost all of my confidence and didn’t even know if I wanted to make music anymore. Which was terrifying because this was the first time I had been confronted with the idea that this might not be what I’m supposed to do.
At 33, I quit my high-paying, benefits-filled job to get a production company running with my wife. But before that year was even out, we’d gone through all of our savings, we were barely getting by, and we had a child on the way. The next year was even more difficult – we had new responsibilities, rising household costs and barely any income. Our debt was starting to rise and we genuinely didn’t know if we’d be able to keep our home or if we were going end up out on the street. Our marriage went through the kind of difficulties that we never would have imagined we’d go through – not us. There was a good two years or more full of stress, anxiety, and confusion. Neither one of us really knew which end was up.
You may have been through far worse things. Or maybe you’ve been through something like the above. Maybe the things you’ve been through don’t seem as though they’re as difficult. In reality, it’s all subjective. And that’s okay. We all experience these things in different ways.
Silver Linings Are Everywhere
The thing is, while these experiences are certainly difficult – especially when you may see no end in sight – you don’t necessarily have to suffer through them. Or, at the very least, you don’t have to suffer as greatly.
That’s because there’s always a silver lining.
Sometimes they try and hide from you.
When I went through that break-up, I focused so much on the pain and my self-loathing, that it took many many looks in the mirror before I understood that this experience was designed to ultimately make me a better person. If I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, clearly I was finally being confronted with myself. Part of dealing with that was to learn to get comfortable with who I am/was, but also to fix the things that I knew needed fixing. Once I started seeing that, I started loosening up. I started making new friends, and I started moving into what was essentially a new life – a new version of me. And I got to have new experiences that I had never really had before in my life. It wasn’t long before I started to see that I’d dodged a bullet when that relationship ended. Even though it was still incredibly hard, I understood that there was a reason that I had to go through this and that ultimately it would make me more prepared for when I finally met that person I was meant to be with.
Sometimes you don’t know what the silver lining is until well after the experience.
Looking back at how my life path seemed to divert after the record label failure, I can see now that the experience served many purposes, all of them easily definable as silver linings. For instance, nearly giving up on music caused me to get into other creative endeavors like television and film. Things I always loved and had wanted to be involved with, but never considered because I had always been focused on music. The experience also humbled me. When I first signed that contract I thought I was the greatest thing since sliced pepperoni. By the time it was over I realized I wasn’t actually that special. Let me clarify that word and meaning – it was only well after this experience I began to understand the concept of “special” in a prideful, narcissistic sense, vs “special” in a humble, service-focused sense. In other words, I learned that I still had all the talent and the capability, but I had to get knocked off my high horse in order to apply it properly. Coupling that with everything I learned in the world of television and film production has already made me a million times better at what I do, with capabilities I can apply that I never would have dreamed of before.
Sometimes the silver lining is right in front of you and easy to spot.
After our daughter was born and my wife went back to work, I was unemployed, unable to get work through our production company, and home all the time. On top of that I was taking care of our newborn by myself, which was terrifying, stressful and incredibly intense. I often worried about how I was inevitably going to fail her and fail my wife and how in the world was I going to make money if I had to be here doing this? But while I was worried and stressed and overwhelmed (a lot), I could also very easily see the silver lining. It was there every day when I sat on the couch with my baby daughter napping in my lap. It was there when I fed or changed her. It was there when she smiled or coo’d or just looked at me. I got to spend the kind of time with my daughter – very early on in her life – that most fathers never get to have. I knew this and felt this every single day.
Acknowledging these silver linings didn’t take all the stress away (though it did help to make each respective experience easier), but it did put things into a particular perspective. It’s that perspective that gave me a sense of purpose – like this wasn’t entirely random or endless. In that, I found a sense of comfort.
I could also see how these experiences were like gifts in disguise.
How To Find Those Silver Linings
If we can see that there are definitely silver linings, how do we go about finding them? How do we know when we are supposed to see them?
Consider that there are many ways to look at this idea of silver linings.
My faith tells me that everything happens for a reason. Even the really bad stuff. As a result, it’s my nature at this point to be looking for those silver linings when anything bad happens, or when things get particularly difficult or stressful. In addition, because my faith centers around the idea of purpose, I tend to lean toward the idea that nothing bad can happen without something good to counter it. It’s always there – you just have to be willing to do the work to see it.
But what if you’re not naturally inclined to look for these things?
As with nearly everything, I like to take a logical approach, which – much like convincing yourself you have very little to worry about – means playing a few tricks on your brain. In this case, your brain is in many ways trying to resolve the problem you are currently in. That means its focus is very much on that and not on what else you could hope to gain from the circumstance. So, naturally, you focus on the pain and stress because doing so motivates you to resolve it.
For instance, when my relationship ended I of course focused on trying to get the girl back, which made me very sad and depressed (among other things). I started to despair at the fact that I was failing miserably and eventually started to question my own worth. When my brain tried to get me to fill the void she had left, it only made things more difficult and painful. My confidence completely went down the tubes because I had no idea what I was doing, how to act or who to be.
What you have to do then is to trick your brain into believing there’s an entirely different problem, and that that is the problem you need to solve.
In that light here are some questions you can try asking yourself:
- What has changed?
- This is, essentially, what happened. It’s what your brain wants to fix.
- Do you feel different? If so, in what specific way?
- This is what your brain is trying to make you feel in order to get you to fix the problem.
- Why do you feel this way?
- It would be easy to say “because of the thing that changed” (ie: “because my fiancee left me”), but that’s not the answer. The answer is because of all of the things that that change brings (or takes away). In my case I might answer “because I was supposed to have finally found the person I was supposed to be with” or “I was ready to settle down and start a family” or “because I don’t know how to be alone”.
- If [the answer you gave in the last question] then why did the change occur?
- I might say “If I was ready to settle down and start a family, then why did this breakup happen?” To which there could be two possible answers: 1. I’m not actually ready to start a family. 2. She was not the person I was supposed to start a family with.
- If [the answer you just gave in the last question] then what can you conclude?
- I might say “If she was not the person that I was supposed to start a family with, I can conclude that that person is still out there” or “…I could have ended up with the wrong person, so I really dodged a bullet”. Or I might say “If I’m not actually ready to start a family, then perhaps there’s something else I’m supposed to be doing right now, or something more I’m supposed to learn.”
You can already see how that might distract your brain and get you to see not only the silver linings but a possible direction in which you should go to resolve this new problem.
I’ll admit these are very loose questions and they do take a bit of work (after all, your brain is going to try and keep you on track in an effort to resolve the original issue), but you can see how, if framed correctly, you could start to take your brain on an alternative track. Keep the answers positive and moving away from what’s hurting you. You’ll know it’s working when the weight begins to fall away from your shoulders. It will really take shape when you can feel yourself moving in the direction to solve this new problem.
You might also want to consider that you may not see the silver linings of this experience until well after the fact. In that case, here are some questions to ask:
- What did you get out of it? What new assets, talents, abilities or outlooks?
- Who did you become? How was that better than what you were before?
- Who did you meet? What lasting impression, even if indirect, did they leave on you?
- What did you learn from all of this?
In just doing this exercise you’re already seeing that in the past, the silver linings were there, whether you saw them at the time or not. That means that you will, eventually, see the silver linings in your current experience, too! That, in itself, is a silver lining! You can even try asking these questions of your current situation as if you were already on the other side of it.
Either way, you are reminding yourself that what you are going through, compared with the full extent of your entire life, is just a moment. It will pass. It always has. At a certain point you’ve always been able to look back at the most difficult times in your life and acknowledged that you aren’t still within them anymore!
Why? Well that’s easy – to turn you into a better version of yourself. And the better you are, the better you can serve others, and inspire Joy within them.
Remember that analogy I made about Life not only knocking you down but desperately trying to keep you there? If Life is so obsessed with keeping us down, why do you think that is? Is it possible that we are at our most powerful once we’ve stood back up?
One of my favorite movie quotes comes from Rocky Balboa, and I think it’s pretty apt here: “It’s not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”