Listen to the audio version of this article here: https://youtu.be/iFWEtxBIwZ0
The title of this post shares its name with a classic song from one of my favorite groups, so I didn’t need an excuse to use it here.
Mid-February is the time of year when thoughts of love and affection are in the air. Embers of frustration, anger, and despondency as well, the results of well-meaning people living in an imperfect world.
Every now and then, I provide a window into some of my own personal journey as a case study for those enjoying my work.
(Only when it’s helpful to all of you, though. My (professional) game is centered on dishing out assists to those around me, a la Jason Kidd. I’d rather focus my content on the material most beneficial to you all, not plant myself in the limelight.)
Over the last eight months, I’ve dealt with loss and unexpected change myself: some by choice, others, circumstance.
It’s never easy.
Discussing those thoughts with others can be cathartic, allowing you to gain some closure and remind yourself that the world has not ended.
Ironically, my increased comfort with sharing my thoughts and feelings with others is growth from one of the relationships that inspired this post. Even if I have to distance myself from an environment when the winds change, I’ve never had a problem compartmentalizing, recognizing what I’ve gained from the experience and extending gratitude where it’s warranted.
Unanticipated changes and events can really do a number on your sense of stability and self-worth. You’ve seemingly got your whole future mapped out and then, BAM—feels like you’ve got to start over.
Below, some tips for picking up the pieces after losing someone—or something—you care about.
1) Your Mind: The First Frontier
The first step to re-establishing a healthy mental space is controlling your thoughts. In order to move forward, you’ve got to ward away thoughts that will lead to feelings of depression, despondency, and unreasonable dissatisfaction with what your life represents.
I’ll use myself as an example:
I’m reminded that I could have been a much better romantic partner, family member, and friend in 2022. There were times when I could have been more supportive, empathetic, and emotionally-deferential to promote feelings of satisfaction, trust, and closeness with those who rely on me.
Are there fights I could have short-circuited before they exploded? Hurts and misunderstandings I could have sidestepped? That weighs heavy on my mind. There’s so much I could have done differently.
Of course, conflict and disappointment is almost never a one-sided affair, with the blame lying squarely in one lap. There are times when you have to say “adios” if you’re dealing with a situation where your best interests are not being served or you’re within range of collateral damage from decision-makers with conflicting values.
You cannot force anyone to change and expecting others to adopt your level of seriousness, ethics, or value system is a dangerous proposition. It’s better just to walk away and insert yourself in settings where complementary parts are already in abundance.
But rather than shift blame post-mortem, I always focus on myself and what I could have done better—I’ve got a lot more control over myself than the rest of the world.
After some of those life changes, the emotions in my mind ran the gamut. Resentment stemming from opportunities lost; anger and frustration for the roles that all parties played when the situation takes a turn for the worse; nostalgia and appreciation for good times past; an ignoble desire for those I’ve left behind to struggle, so my contributions can be truly recognized and appreciated.
(If you’ve ever left a job or team where you felt underappreciated, you know that last feeling all too well. Nobody wants to look back and see your previous compatriots flourishing with you.)
To the men reading this: There’s no shame in acknowledging that you’re in pain or you’re down. Life can be rough and we are not robots—sticks, stones, words, and fights all hurt.
It doesn’t render you less of a man to acknowledge and consider feelings and emotions that exist inside of you. That sort of introspection—where you can label and recognize everything happening—can graduate you to a better husband, father, friend, and leader.
Of course, you want to avoid becoming a prisoner of your emotions, less capable of differentiating biased perspective and objective reality. If you allow your emotions in the moment to dictate your evaluation of present and past history, you’re going to run into a lot of problems…..especially if others cannot trust you to be safe with their own well-being, aware that your interpretation of your shared relationship is beholden to whatever emotions are occupying your mind at that time.
Nobody wants to feel like their own perspective, values, and contributions will not be appreciated.
So, what next after the dust settles?
As tempting as it is to envelope yourself in self-pity, you’ve got to release the emergency brake and charge forward. It’s human to experience negative thoughts related to a person or situation—no harm there. What you have to avoid is building a nest for them, allowing them to occupy a permanent space in your mind.
Like a firefly, catch those thoughts flickering in the darkness and release them back into the abyss, to be replaced with words and images better aligned with what you want in the future.
You can decide to be joyful, no matter what happens to you. You may not control the event, but you can decide your reaction to it.
(I’ll explore some step-by-step systems for doing exactly this in a future article.)
Your mind manifests what it dwells on, so you must seize control of it and feed it words, images, and thoughts that propel you towards what you want. Lingering memories of toxicity, rejection, failure, and resentment will breed just that.
Rather than wallow in “I-wish-I-would-haves” or pine for life do-overs that would never happen, I opted for a much more beneficial response:
“Reframe Your Experience: What opportunities have opened up in the wake of these changes?”
Which segues into my next tip…..
2) Snatch Victory from (apparent) Defeat
There is value in everything we go through in life, no matter how demoralizing it may seem. Even tragedies can provide some benefit to us, if we’re paying attention.
What lessons can we take from the experience to help us move forward? Where did we contribute to our own loss?
Maybe you did not do enough prep work for an interview, setting the stage for a comedy of errors. Or, if you find yourself routinely at odds with those in your social circle, maybe you have no business hanging around them in the first place.
“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.”
Focus not on how others did you wrong; there’s not much value in that for your future. Conduct some introspection and consider asking for (wise) counsel as well pertaining to your role in the situation.
For the women in my life, I needed to be more emotionally-available. People need to know you hear their pain and desires, even if the words and actions they drop on your plate do not add up (logically). The ability to recognize, articulate, and share the thoughts and feelings running through your head is one of the chief desires women want from the people around them.
If you are a man who can deliver this reliably, you’re going to be in big demand, whether that’s as a leader in an organization—who can connect with everyone on a level that encourages a sense of empathy and unity—or as a boyfriend or husband.
Remember this: women are a reflection of the environment around them. The energy, support, and normative cues she receives play an inordinate role in her behavior and demeanor. There’s a sizable personal accountability element there as well, but, when surrounded by the right elements, women are powerful catalysts.
(This is one of the reasons why the rash of single-parent families is so dangerous for society going forward, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
The lessons I’ve learned have stuck with me and the willingness to humble myself and absorb feedback has helped me evolve. That growth continues to find its way into my work and has cultivated a more empathetic, considerate, supportive individual—without splintering the calm, self-assured exterior I’ve always boasted.
3) Decide Where You Want to Go Next
Adjust your attitude. Get busy and get moving towards your future.
You need to make room for something new, so clear out emotional and mental space for the arrival of what you want. Are you after a new position? Looking to fill a void from the loss of someone in your circle? Decide what you want and start drawing up plans to go after it.
If we’re talking about a separation from a person, limiting contact (and exposure to any material that evokes memories of them) may be useful. For the near future at least, until some of the raw emotions have simmered down and you can engage with them in a way that’s healthy for you.
It’s natural to be rattled in these situations—we have all been there. Just avoid creating a mental cauldron of fear and worry about the unknown.
Understand that you always have someone looking out for you:
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
Hold on to the lessons you have learned.
Visualize your thoughts and goals and devote your energy to crafting your future. If memories (good or bad) pop into your head, do not dwell on them; use them to get excited about the memories you will create in the future.
And instead of ruminating on what you’ve lost, start thinking about what you’ve gained.
There were reasons why things did not work out; keep that in mind any time you are tempted to romanticize your previous experiences. When we look back at different times in our lives, we tend to remember only the events that generated the biggest emotional responses. We forget many of the mundane conflicts and indiscretions that transpired.
That phenomenon is a close cousin of Availability Bias, a cognitive error that corrupts our decision-making process.
If you’re not careful, you start longing for something that wasn’t so great in the first place, well beneath the standards you should be shooting for.
Rejoice over the growth you’ve (hopefully) experienced and the chance to pursue the people and opportunities that were meant to catapult you to a higher quality of living.
If you’ve been approaching your work, relationship, and familial ties with an open mind and base amount of reverence, positive evolution is almost always a by-product, if only to adapt to the adversity that comes with life on this planet. As long as you’re not the type who thinks you know everything and registers feedback as a personal attack, social osmosis should have been chiseling away at some of your rougher edges. Every single day and interaction is a chance to move closer to your destiny—if you’re open to growth.
One thing guaranteed in this life: change.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a helpless passenger on that journey.