One of the great truths that I write about (probably too frequently) is that bad things make pathways to good things, if not the fact that bad things teach good things and bad things often are good things. I feel like my 7th grade English teacher would be cringing with how many times I just used “good” and “bad” in a sentence.
But really, it’s resistance to change, to reality, to realizing where we’re headed before we’re there, to what we’ve assigned the term “success” or not, that makes us miserable. There are no dark times that do not double as turning points. It’s all a matter of how we see them. And this is in no way exhaustive. It couldn’t be. These are just a few things that people too often look back on with remorse and shame when they’re the things that largely accounted for making them better than they realized.
1. What your parents didn’t give you. It gave you the chance to grow for yourself. Because some parents aren’t able to give more than a human body and maybe a house for a little while. People are flawed, parents included, and it’s okay. When people declare that they supported themselves through college and possibly prior and likely beyond, without an endless account of funding, they say it with two inflections: that they’re a bit bitter that other people didn’t have to, but they’re proud of what they did on their own. And they’re right about that last part. What you do for yourself tends to be infinitely more gratifying than what’s just handed to you. It makes your everyday life, though often stressful, seem like an accomplishment, that you can not only support yourself, but even live comfortably(!) Having been forced into independence, both financial and otherwise, is not always the worst thing though it seems unconquerably challenging at times.
2. Aloneness. Occasionally crippling, momentarily refreshing, a little intimidating and forcefully contemplative aloneness. The moments in which there was no external narrative to abide by. The times in which you realized that though companionship is beautiful for a plethora of reasons, the removal of pressure to be anything but who you are is an important thing to be attuned to. You’ll learn things about yourself you never would have realized had you not only had yourself to answer to for a while.
3. The first time you had no choice but to be stripped down to complete humility. You realized that perpetuating a facade of yourself burns crucial time, wastes otherwise resourceful energy and ultimately just allows you to avoid yourself for that much longer. Be honest. People appreciate honesty even when it’s slightly deprecating because it’s more real than the alternative.
4. When you actually hit rock bottom. I never quite understood what people meant by this, because I felt as though my rock bottom was a series of moments that, combined, showed me it was only up from there. I don’t think “hitting” rock bottom is somewhere you arrive, I think it’s when you realize where you are. And that kind of acute awareness is crucial. It’s the beginning.
5. The moments in which you were forced to focus on the little, beautiful things because nothing else could be bearably acknowledged in your life. It’s only when we rely on them to get us through the rough waters that we realize they always carried us and they always will.
6. The moments in which nobody else was there for save you, and you had to be there for yourself. Without realizing, you sparked a little fire inside you that will be the only thing that carries you through many days to come. Similar to what I addressed earlier, this is not just being self-reliant. This is being self-comforting, self-affirming, self-loving and self-stimulating. Things that, largely, cannot always be counted on others for.
7. For many, if not most of us, it was in loving and losing someone who ingrained themselves so deeply into who we thought we were that we go through our first major self-transformations. (How could I not mention lost love in this… hello, obviously). But it’s not so much the first love, or the first heartbreak, though they are defining moments, as it is the times that you picked yourself up and walked away though that wasn’t the easiest thing to do. When you left even though you loved them. When you left because you just wanted to. When you stopped waiting for permission or reason to seek happiness beyond that medial banality you stumbled upon.
8. When you had to realize the painful reality that many people seeking relationships will only care about what you can do for them. That employers may very often feel similarly. That the world in general won’t care about you as much as how you make others feel and what you can do for them. It’s harsh, it’s unpleasant, it’s reality. And it’s acknowledging it that we can only start to remove ourselves from the picture of where we fit in larger society and paint ourselves how we want, and realize that a requirement of being a human being is not to have a “place” unless and until we say there is.
9. That who you are on the inside, and your self-love and self-satisfaction, means nearly nothing if not translatable externally. It’s wonderful to have these things for yourself, but they are largely suggested as things to accomplish as a precursor to finding other, external things, because that’s the reality of it. We need to sustain ourselves in times when there will be nothing else, but in life, we will always crave and need love and acceptance and purpose and community. It’s a foundation, not an endpoint.
10. When you lost your identity. When the words you used to categorize yourself, sum yourself up for the consumption of others, no longer apply, and you have to sit with the reality that they never did in the first place. They were fillers. They were the easy way to understand yourself… little, categorical words that define basically what you like and what you do with your day. But while those things are changing and subjective, you, as a person, as an entity, and as a being, are not. The day you realize this is the day you stop thinking of yourself as a student, teacher, writer, lover, husband, wife, parent, addict, survivor, realist, whatever else you can muster up, and just start seeing yourself as an evolving, being, loving, hating, changing, undefinable person by your very nature.