The Gift of Adversity
One of the greatest gifts of my life was to be born into humble circumstances. Like so many, my family experienced much adversity throughout my childhood. Not knowing how to overcome our victm thoughts about adversity, we wore it like a badge of honor. We did not understand that by readily accepting our “fate,” we would continue to suffer through our losses, with no respite or hope for something better.
The two big trials I remember as a child were the loss of a young sister who drowned (she was seven, I was nine) followed by a bankruptcy. Things seemed to go downhill from there. It seemed there was never enough … money, work, resources, or options.
In addition to my family’s challenges, I was very shy and lacking in confidence. I had thoughts of lack and feelings of despair, and didn’t know what to do with them.
Now, these trials may not sound like a gift and, for 26 years of my life, they didn’t feel like gifts, but I’ll get to the good part in a little bit.
Like many young people, I made the mistake of comparing myself to others, focusing on the things I lacked, and lamenting the unfairness of life. Worse, I believed there was nothing I could do about it, that it was our lot in life.
My parents did the best they could to manage the constant setbacks, yet they struggled to find their own answers. We had very little, but at least I can say they loved us as much as they could and we always had the basic necessities of life, even though some of our living circumstances were less than ideal.
In high school, I made friends with two outgoing girls. I also had a great youth leader who helped me recognize my value. Their influence drew me out of my shyness and into a little more confidence and self-worth.
But, I still felt a desperate lack. If I wanted nice clothes, a yearbook, a class ring or anything else that wasn’t a necessity, I’d have to pay for it myself.
I learned early on to be self-reliant. I began working at the age of 16, in a city sixteen miles from my small town. I worked full-time throughout my junior year and part of my senior year.
My first few paychecks afforded me a 1971 Chevrolet Impala for $700 to get me around (thanks, Dad . . . but, I really wanted the red Ford Mustang!). Mercifully, my mom traded me her 1973 Chevy Vega for the Impala (thanks, Mom).
When I was 17, my parents made the difficult decision to move again from Arkansas to Texas in hopes they’d find better work and stability.
I wanted to finish out my high school year in Arkansas, so I moved in with a nice family from church when my family left for Texas. But, after a month, I missed my family so much that I chose to join them, enrolling in a new high school.
Attending a larger and more affluent school was challenging. The environment was a far cry from my small-town high school. But, somehow, I managed to get through those five months, and even found a few good friends along the way.
Following graduation, I could see no way to get through college, so I didn’t even try. (In hindsight, I would have very likely qualified for financial aid, but at that time, my scarcity mentality did not allow me to see it.)
So, I found a full-time job as a secretary and got an apartment with a couple of friends. One thing I did have was the hope of marrying a nice young man who shared my faith and of having a family of my own one day.
Marriage and family
Shortly after I turned 20, I did marry a young man that I had fallen in love with. In retrospect, our courtship wasn’t ideal and there were red flags, but I didn’t have the maturity or self-confidence to recognize them at the time. He was from a similarly challenged family, but we did share the same faith and were hopeful we could find happiness and success together. I thought our life was good. We had some difficult moments together, but that’s to be expected, isn’t it? I truly loved him and felt he loved me, so we decided to start a family.
It took 14 months to get pregnant, but we were soon blessed with a beautiful daughter. Exactly two years later, we had a darling son, so I quit my part-time job to stay home and care for our children. What a joy parenthood was for me and my husband seemed a good father at the time. I continued to have some health issues and having only one income brought more financial challenges, but we both loved our kids and my husband said he supported me staying home with them, so we were willing to make that sacrifice.
I realize now, I had tied my self-esteem to my marriage and the family we’d created together. We didn’t always see eye to eye, like many young couples, and we responded very differently to our less-than-ideal circumstances. We each had individual insecurities and issues, but for me it was enough just to have someone with whom I could share the trials of life.
I was not prepared for what happened next …
When our youngest was only 6 months old, my husband made a series of choices that hurt me deeply and betrayed our marriage. I’ll spare the heartbreaking details, but it was devastating. Yet, I loved him and was willing to work through this together. After all, my marriage commitment to him had been for eternity. He agreed to stay and make an effort to repair the damage. I was so grateful as I really wanted our family to be together and truly felt we were going to be ok.
Yet, within two months, he was involved with someone else and decided that a life with me was no longer what he wanted, and so he walked out for good … on Christmas Eve. Our kids were only 2½ years and 10 months old. I was now even more devastated and hurt.
This was the beginning of a long and difficult road. I was struggling in every possible way: physically, emotionally, and financially. I was heartbroken and disillusioned. In short, I was miserable.
I went through all the phases of grief, sometimes vacillating between them. I didn’t want this. I didn’t want a divorce, but my husband’s choices and change of heart offered no hope for reconciliation.
With no college education, the best job I could find paid $20,000 a year. It was in downtown Dallas, an hour’s drive from my home, and I worked there for two years.
My employer loved my work ethic. He scored me high on performance reviews. But, having had no children of his own, he knew nothing of the challenges a single mom faces. He would often express frustration in having to deal with the times I was late, had to leave early or called in sick. It really hurt because I always strived for excellence. I just needed some understanding.
But, he simply did not understand my predicament. My mother worked and could not help and my ex was unreliable. I had a babysitter, but she had a sick policy in place. I had no one else to rely on.
[In my boss’s defense, several years later, I inherited this same company as a client, and so I stopped in to say hello. He now had two small children of his own and a working wife. He apologized profoundly for his lack of empathy. Now that he was struggling with many of the same issues, he didn’t know how I had managed so well on my own. In fact, he told me he had dubbed me “Saint Trudy,” for how I presented myself at work despite my hardships. I was grateful for his newfound compassion.]
To make matters worse, when our divorce was final, I was left with $17,000 of our debt. It was a desperate financial situation and I could not see a way out of it. It seemed I had so many things working against me.
Victim mentality was getting the best of me
I also had unusual health challenges develop in my twenties, which left me exhausted and spent. Alone and in despair, I would sob in my bedroom, away from the children’s view, praying for peace, comfort, and strength.
I would share my predicament with anyone who would listen, trying to reconcile how this could have happened to me. I was dealing with so many different issues that I became overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do about it.
My upbringing hadn’t prepared me for this. Though I had been taught important values and principles in my youth, I didn’t know how to apply them. The victim mentality I had inherited was strong and in full force!
The problem was that I was viewing my experiences through my own unique lenses. These lenses were how I perceived everything in my life. I created them according to the beliefs I’d inherited and accepted. They reflected the programming through which I responded to every life situation.
True or false, right or wrong, supportive or non-supportive, these perceptions were mine. And they were influencing how I saw everything and everyone in my world.
As a result, I felt beat up and betrayed. I felt cheated. I felt alone and small. I felt helpless and hopeless.
I couldn’t see how things could be any worse and I certainly couldn’t see how they were going to get better. And so I lamented. I blamed. I complained. I justified.
I talked and talked about how unfair it was and how it wasn’t my fault, or worse, I debated . . . was it my fault?
I told my sad story to anyone who would listen in hopes that they would agree that it was, indeed, true … I had been dealt a terrible hand!
As a result of this victim mentality, I felt like this “poor woman” at church, whom people must feel terribly sorry for and who might even be wondering what I did to bring this on myself.
Please understand that these were MY perceptions, MY limiting beliefs, MY insecurities. Perhaps some did feel this way or perhaps no one did. It’s possible others’ thoughts of me were kind, sympathetic, loving, and supportive. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that, at this stage of my life, I had created these thoughts in my own mind.
The truth is, I didn’t know how to love, support, or comfort myself. It would be much later before I began to see and understand how my own thoughts were beating me down. My own self-imposed shame and misery were keeping me rooted in victim mentality … a mentality that offered no hope for something better!
The Aha! moment that changed my life
I started looking for hope through prayer and good literature. One day, while perusing the shelves of a book store, I was inspired to buy the book The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.
While reading this book, I had what I call my “light bulb” or “Aha!” moment, This became a defining moment of my life!
I suddenly realized, “Trudy, you can be divorced and miserable OR divorced and happy . . . it’s YOUR choice!”
As much as I didn’t want to be divorced, the fact remained that I WAS divorced. It was a simple fact that I could not change.
But, in this moment, I finally realized that happiness IS a choice–regardless of my circumstances!
I saw that my negatively-influenced thoughts were cheating me out of LIVING . . . with hope, happiness, peace, and joy and all that might result from those states of being!
I decided, from that point forward, that I was going to BE HAPPY. This wasn’t easy, given my current state of affairs, but it was such a relief to know that I didn’t have to CHOOSE suffering just because my circumstances were difficult.
A New Empowered Life
- I began to view my life differently, taking charge of every aspect.
- I stopped telling the old, sad stories.
- I chose to replace negative thoughts with thoughts of hope, faith, and trust.
- I started speaking optimistically to those around me.
- I created positive expectations for my future.
- I posted supportive quotes all over my apartment.
- I made a dream poster.
- I wrote out a vision for my future.
- I started believing I was worthy of blessings!
My situation didn’t turn around instantly, but within three years, my life had transformed:
- Through word of mouth, I began a new career as a sales rep where my income tripled in the first three years there. And my office was only ten minutes from my home and children! It also provided lots of flexibility in my schedule so that I could be there for my children, guilt-free!
- After a few years of hard work, I was able to buy a brand new, reliable car.
- I won a sales contest that enabled me to buy some new furniture for my home.
- I could finally spend $100 at the grocery store without worrying.
- I expressed to a co-worker my hope of finding an affordable home in a nicer neighborhood. (We were living in a questionable apartment complex.) She told me of a friend who needed someone to immediately assume the mortgage on their cute little house on a cul-de-sac. They required no money down, just to take take over payments. It was ideal and everything worked out beautifully!
- This fresh start brought added blessings. The neighborhood was part of an excellent school district, much better than the one my children had attended. And this new location would enable me to meet my future husband.
- Most importantly, I was learning to transform the negative into positive. I was learning to love myself. I grew in self-worth. I began to set healthy boundaries with others. I now expected good things to happen … and they did! I also learned to be ok with adversity, to understand it’s purpose and the attending blessings that can come from it. This new awareness empowered me to grow in confidence, knowledge, and faith.
Overcome Adversity by Moving Forward in Faith
It has taken time to master the principles and techniques of living a happy and healthy life, but it has been a joyful journey.
It’s not that my challenges are fewer now, nor have they ever been. But, in changing how I view them, I am enabled to embrace challenges with strength and grace. I have learned important lessons and gained precious insights.
It is only through adversity that I sought and found the principles, tools, and techniques that enabled me to master my thoughts. It’s something no one else can do for us. And it is something we must choose to do for ourselves.
I now see adversity as a gift. The challenges of my youth and as a young, divorced mother propelled me to find answers that I may have never found otherwise. Now, I see challenges and trials as opportunities for growth. I hope you will, too!
Thank you for taking a few moments to join me on my journey. I want you to know that you are special, too. You are important. You bring something to this world that no one else could.
If you know what that is, then GREAT! The principles and tools I share will support you in fulfilling your purpose.
If you are one of the many who don’t know your purpose or feel you are special, then you are also in the right place! Choose to have faith (or, at least, hope) in my belief that it is true until such a time that you come to know it for yourself!
Join me in a personal coaching session or on this website to learn insights, tools, and techniques that can help you live a rich, full, and empowered life. Let me help you master the principles of happiness and become the creator of your own story!
These principles can help YOU find happiness, regardless of your circumstances.