Bad things happen to good people.

No matter how much we pray or plan, stuff happens (technical coaching term).  The sooner we surrender to the reality that suffering is part of every life, the sooner we can stop being surprised when difficulties and challenges arise.  Knowing this reality allows us to relax more and enjoy the present.  The alternative is to worry more and miss out on the glory of what is in front of us.

We all know people, some of whom I've coached, who live in fear of future problems.  They don't let their guard down in case tragedy strikes, which means they live with constant anxiety.  Because they dwell in the future "what if," they don't fully enjoy the here and now, regardless of how good it is.  These people are waiting for the "other shoe to drop."

These clients are surprised, if not shocked, when I tell them that shoes will drop in their lifetime, so the question isn't if it will happen, but how will they respond when it does.  No one gets to the end of their life without challenges.  Shoes drop, some bigger than others.  Our challenges range from the easy and fixable inconveniences of a flat tire or wet basement, to the more serious ones of job loss, illness and death. We often don't know when these events will occur, but occur they will.

The first time I thought about this was thirteen years ago when my daughter, Danielle, was nine and my son, Ethan, was six.  My husband and I were taking Danielle from doctor to doctor for tests and second opinions.  Late one day, as we were walking to our car after leaving yet another doctor's office, Danielle asked me why she had these issues and Ethan didn't.  Without hesitating, I told her that no one goes through life without "shticks" and she got these shticks early.  I said I would like for Ethan to never have any shticks, but that is unrealistic.  I recently reminded healthy Danielle of this conversation as Ethan entered his sixth month of recuperation from a serious illness and three surgeries.

Too often we look at other people and think their life is perfect and shtick-free.  It's not.  Maybe there is no particular challenge at the moment, or maybe they haven't had a serious dilemma yet, but they will.  I prefer that no one ever have a shtick, but that would be living in the world of unicorns and fairies.

Therefore, the goal isn't to hope for nothing bad to happen, but to know that you will carry on when it does.  Having the self confidence to know that you will handle challenges large and small provides the personal peace that allows you to enjoy the here and now.  Sure, take all the necessary and appropriate precautions to ward off as much bad stuff as possible, including having regular medical checkups, keeping your car running well, and doing your best at work.  These measures aren't guarantees that you won't ever get sick, have car trouble, or get laid off, but you'll have the peace of mind that you've done all you can do.  Enjoy the moments when you are healthy and driving to work.  Don't waste that time worrying about events that may or may not happen.

I developed an exercise that has helped my clients who live in this type of fear:

  1. Write down your worst fear, e.g., losing your job.

  2. Draw an arrow leading from this fear to the right.  This arrow means "then what?"

  3. Write down what your next step would be, e.g., look for another job.

  4. Draw another arrow and write the next step, e.g., update resume.

  5. Continue drawing arrows and writing down next steps until you've reached what you think is the end.

This exercise teaches us that if and when our worst fear is realized, we have next steps to take and we survive.  Most of us won't end up homeless, even if we have to sell our homes and rent a small apartment.  We learn that the outcome may not be optimal, but we will figure it out and endure.

So put on both shoes and strut around with confidence.  One or the other will drop, and when it does, you'll pick it up, dust it off, put it back on and keep walking.

Zero Sum