The Gift of Adversity

By Marcus Aurelius Anderson

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls.”
-Khalil Gibran

Life is a collection of moments, and you never know which moment will change your life forever. We all have priorities, as our lives change, so do our priorities. The things that were important to us as a child grow and evolve as we age. Along the way to adulthood, these priorities often become skewed. We begin to erroneously believe that material possessions and the opinions of others are more important than they should be. Logically, we know this should not be the case, yet we are compelled and motivated by these ultimately superficial things.

When in this headspace, it often takes a radical shift in perspective to bring us back to what’s genuinely important in life. This message from the Universe must be obvious and undeniable.
My radical shift happened while I was in the military.

While preparing to deploy, I suffered a severe spinal injury that left me paralyzed from the neck down. In a heartbeat, I went from preparing for war on the battlefield to a war within my own body and mind. During the subsequent surgery, I died on the operating table, twice. While the doctors saved my life, I was told that I’d never walk or use my hands again.
My life went sideways. I was in a complete state of shock. I simply could not wrap my mind around the notion that I would be like this for the rest of my life. I was beside myself. I couldn’t use a cell phone or get on the internet, all I could do was lie in a bed and think about my life.

The things that I kept thinking about weren’t my accomplishments. What kept coming to mind were the regrets of things I hadn’t achieved. I realize that we will all have regrets in life to some extent. We are often under the romantic notion that we will live a perfectly healthy life to be 100 years old until we are lying on our deathbed, surrounded by family and close friends.  But I wasn’t on my deathbed. I was an otherwise healthy person who probably had another 40+ years to live in my current physical state, plenty of time to let my regret slowly eat away at me from the inside. Up to that point, I thought that I’d lived my life on my own terms and had some grand adventures. But in hindsight, I regretted not going after all the things I’d kept putting off “until tomorrow.”

Lying in that bed, I had no idea what I was going to do next. My entire life had revolved around my primary objective of deploying in the military. That goal had evaporated, and now I was left without purpose or the use of my physical body.
Without purpose, we look for distraction to keep us mentally, emotionally and physically occupied. The only distraction that I had at my disposal was anger. The madder I became, the more it welled up inside me like a venomous volcano. This inwardly directed anger is the very definition of depression. I started thinking of ways of taking my own life, but I couldn’t even accomplish that in my current physical state.

The things that I once thought were important became a distant memory. The education I had, the house I lived in, and car I drove mattered not. My bank account was simply a number on a screen or slip of paper that could not change my condition. Take a moment and ask yourself one question:

What would you do if you found yourself in my circumstance, what regret(s) would you harbor?

Read that statement again.

The things that are coming to mind right now, these are the things that you legitimately value. These are your Priorities, and these are the things you should start acting on this very moment.

In my paralyzed state, I quickly realized that my family was a priority to me. The strong relationships I had with longtime friends was another.But there was another priority that I realized I’d overlooked. That priority was gratitude.
I realized I wasn’t grateful for my health or physical abilities. I’d mistakenly taken these things for granted.
In hindsight, I saw that I’d taken the time I’d been given for granted as well. Up until the time of my injury, I always assumed that I’d have “tomorrow” when I could be potentially inhaling my last breath at any moment.
I tried desperately to find something, anything, to be grateful for in my paralyzed condition. I knew I should be grateful to be alive, but I felt like I wasn’t really living. It felt like I was simply existing.

Finally, after 3 agonizing months, I had an epiphany.

I realized that I was focusing only on myself, on my situation. I wasn’t thinking about others. Once I started looking outside of me, at the positive things that my injury prevented, my mindset changed. For example, if I’d suffered this injury while I was deployed, I could have potentially put others lives in danger. It takes many people to drag an injured man out of danger to a helicopter and fly him to safety. This means that everyone from my team to the helicopter crew and pilot of the Chinook would have been put in harm’s way to save my life.

That fact became the cornerstone of gratitude upon which I could build. I began to construct appreciation of more things on this foundation. Slowly but surely, I began to be grateful for other things I’d taken for granted. Eventually, I was even grateful for the bed I was confined to and the room that I may never be able to leave. After 3 months, I was able to see my injury as a blessing. Once I started seeing my Adversity as a gift instead of a curse, something miraculous began to happen.

A week after I shifted my mindset into this state of unconditional gratitude, the fingers on my left hand began to move ever so slightly. It wasn’t much, but it was a foundation; my foundation for recovery.

After another 9 months of physical therapy and more months of occupational therapy, I was finally able to walk and function close to normal. To this day I still have permanent nerve damage in my hands and feet. And for that, I am grateful.
This impairment serves as a daily reminder of how far I have come compared to when my entire body was in the same numb condition.

While distractions are infinite, the time and ability you possess is limited. Use both of these precious commodities to the best of your ability while you are still able. Take the time to realize what is truly important in your life and act on them…now.

Learn to be grateful for everything in your life, both the good and the bad. The bad times will teach you that the good times in life are like a fine wine, and should be savored and appreciated as such.

Your life can change in a moment as mine did, and there is precious little time to waste. Life is a collection of moments, and you never know which moment will change your life forever.

 

love paper pen, submit your story, inspiration, motivationMarcus Aurelius Anderson is an author, TEDx speaker, professional keynote speaker and mindset coach.

To learn more about Marcus visit his website:
http://www.marcusaureliusanderson.com/

His book “The Gift of Adversity: Overcoming Paralysis and Pain to Find Purpose” is now available on Amazon and Kindle:
https://www.amazon.com/Gift-Adversity-Overcoming-Paralysis-Purpose-ebook/dp/B076P481QN/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1512258951&sr=8-1&keywords=the+gift+of+adversity

His TEDx Talk “The Gift of Adversity”:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXicUawrH6o&t=9s

Why are we scared of change?

You know you’ll be better off. You know you’ll love it once it happens. There’s only one problem… You have to actually do it. Whether it’s a toxic relationship, unrewarding job or bad neighborhood, the pain felt every day seems tolerable compared to the potential pain of change. At least it’s familiar.

Every day, we reinforce patterns. Patterns of movement. Patterns of thought. Patterns of emotions. Just like the momentum of a speeding truck, the more time we spend in our patterns, the more challenging it is to change course. We fear losing control. This control allows us to feel comfortable. To be clear, comfort is different than safety. It is possible to be uncomfortable and still safe. Just imagine a hike in the cold rain. No risk of death, just wet socks.

Not being the sharpest tack in the box, I have always had a tendency to run towards discomfort. This has consistently confused my friends and family. Over the years, what could be interpreted as blind stupidity has been rebranded to courage. Still not sure I understand the difference, but the lesson is the same. The result has been a life that others describe as ‘fearless’.

Now let’s see if we can unpack the reasons why people struggle with change.

Stuff

Material possessions can bring joy. However, the majority of the material items in a person’s life cause more suffering than joy. Every additional item that you own requires care. If it is something of value to someone else, it needs to be protected from theft. If it is fragile, it needs protection from physical contact. Anyone who has ever moved as an adult understands how overwhelming it can be to get all of these things from one place to another.

While it would be extremist to expect modern adults to become minimalists and live out of a small red bag like the Dalai Lama, there are things to be done. Let’s consider the success of Kondo’s decluttering lessons. At the core of these teaching, we are encouraged to consider how much joy we receive from a given item. This item could be a shirt, a bowling ball or a knife. This joy can come from frequent use, aesthetic enjoyment or memories associated with that item.

Some stuff management systems have a goal of minimizing to a certain number of items. For most, this is a bit extreme. Starting with a donation run to the local thrift store can work. Consider getting rid of anything that has not been touched for the past year. Or create your own time frame you feel comfortable with.

Less things allow for more free thought and the ability to keep momentum down by keeping the weight down. Remember that a truck loaded with bricks will be harder to steer than a truck filled with feathers. Lighten up. Create empty space in your life.

Optional Responsibilities

Puppies are so cute! Then they grow up. And they eat, drink, poop and pee. All pets require attention. The attention could be worth it if the pet provides great joy to the owner. More often than not, pets become more a burden for us instead of a source of joy. Every additional living thing that depends on you for life maintenance adds weight to your life.

Before getting that hamster, consider the reality of the hamster. Consider whether you and/or your family have the bandwidth to give that hamster the best possible life. Do you have time to play with the hamster and keep its cage in top shape? Make custom hamster capes? Play fiddle to the hamster in the morning? Think about the life this hamster will have in your house.

Remember that we are referring to change here. If your goal is to homestead, then a menagerie of animals is perfect. Get the ducks and goats. Collect eggs. That’s the journey. It’s a settling into the ground, not a moving over the ground.

Fear

This is a big one. Most people are ruled by fear. The largest source of fear is the unknown. Most of the physical world is unknown to us. Our own deeper emotions are mostly unknown to us.

Bravery is not the absence of fear. It is acknowledging the presence of fear and advancing anyway. Be scared. It’s normal. But the thing that you can control is what to do with that fear.

Fear can keep someone in a toxic relationship for too long. Fear of being alone. Fear of never finding someone else who will love you as much as this abusive individual who loves you. Even though abuse if present, it’s less scary than the fear of the unknown.

More than half of the over 100 million working Americans are disengaged at their jobs. This means they will put in the bare minimum of work. They don’t love what they do. But having a job is better than not having a job, right?! Not really. Considering the longer time horizon of life, people rarely lay on their deathbed wishing they worked more. Work feels less like work when you love what you do.

In order to make the leap to a profession of passion, it requires leaping. Leaping is scary. Will I get the job I want? Will I make enough money? Will it be what I think it will be? Trusting in the future is the only way to get past these doubts. Go through the worst case scenario. Will you need to cut back on going out to eat? Would you need to move in with your parents? With your children? Coming to terms with these worst-case scenarios can help to leap. If you can handle the worst case, anything better than that will be a pleasant surprise.

Planning

This can be considered intention. Intention always precedes actualization. Imagine that you are going on a road trip. It will take many days to get to your desired destination. You know where you are going, though. Even when you are driving at night, you know where you will end up. It’s only necessary to see the road as far as the headlights go. In many ways, that’s how life is. We don’t always know the details of the events that will transpire between our departure and arrival.

If we do not know where we want to end up, we will wander around. In the wandering, we will encounter interesting opportunities and experiences. While this does not necessarily result in an unpleasant life, you are not likely to arrive at a place you never tried to get to in the first place.

For me, the planning came in the form of a vision board. It was an evening’s craft project at the age of 30 that guided the next decade of my life. The final result of the process is less important than the practice of determining the desired outcome. Here’s how simple it was:

vision board

Ok, so not all of the things on this vision board came true. Most of them did, though.

Large plans require time. Small plans are fast. Because people are generally impatient, we have a tendency to create and execute a series of small plans. Each small plan completed gives us a sense of accomplishment. That little dose of dopamine is what we need to keep happy. Delayed gratification is one of the most challenging things for us humans. We don’t care if that banana will taste better tomorrow. We are hungry right now!

Have patience. The big stuff takes time. I try to break up life in decade chunks. They have a theme with some milestones. The longtime frame removes pressure for instant completion while giving direction to life’s wanderings.

Conclusion

Change is hard. We create ruts from our patterns in life. We acquire things and responsibilities that anchor us to our current state. If we start by creating and maintaining a nimble life, change is easier. Knowing where you want to end up ensures that the change is worth it.

About Shaun Oshman

love paper pen submissions storyCultivator. Educator. Learner.


Shaun has spent his career cultivating teams to do amazing things. He cultivated a team at YMCA Camp Ockanickon to develop and deliver the highest quality experiential education programs. While in NZ, he inspired the most fantastic group of 8-year-olds to exceed their own expectations in the classroom. Today, he leads the team at iSupportU to provide the highest quality IT support and consulting.

Through all of these endeavors, learning has been a common theme. In order to truly know ‘how to learn’, he finished a Masters in Education to prepare him to teach. A thirst for understanding brought him to the field of technology. It was clear that the tool of tech can act as a powerful catalyst to learning and growth for people of all ages.

While teaching in NZ, one of the most rewarding experiences was seeing how empowered the teachers had become when they learned to harness the power of technology in their teaching. This experience was the inspiration behind starting iSupportU as a company. Shaun wanted to see that same empowerment in individuals and businesses. Technology should make life better and bring people together. That is the core goal of iSupportU.

The company has grown by an average of 200% per year since opening. This has resulted in being a top five fastest growing company in Boulder and Broomfield Counties in 2013, 2014 and 2015. In 2014, iSupportU sold off its web department to another firm, purchased a commercial building and discontinued doing repair work for residential customers. The business was sold to a new owner in 2017.

Shaun is currently enjoying a mid-life sabbatical aboard his sailboat, Breeze. Play is key.

United in Tragedy

Every so often a tragedy strikes. Whether it’s a devastating natural disaster like Irma or a man-made catastrophe such as the recent shooting in Las Vegas, every one of these painful occurrences brings with them a subtle reminder of how fragile we really are. They reveal how gentle, soft and delicate we are at the core. They remind us how much we grieve when we lose someone we love. They show how much we hurt when we see others in pain. They demonstrate how sorrow is a universal feeling shared by each and every one of us, regardless of our background or upbringing.

We are reminded by these bone-chilling moments that despite our differences we are much more alike than we are different. Our bodies need water and our lungs demand air just the same. Our eyes shed tears and our wounds bleed blood just the same. We want love for our children and good health for our parents, just the same. We all harness a passion to care, to feel, to love.

Yet somehow, time and time again, we go astray from this natural way of being. When the dust of a tragedy settles we go back to our conditioned ways. We listen to the whispers or sometimes outright screams who tell us blame them, punish him or hate her. Pick a side they tell us, join our team. They’re wrong, we’re right. It’s us against them.

Whether its sports, politics or news, they want us to take sides, to separate, to divide. And we do, time and time again. We argue with our family over the next politician, we get sucked into race wars and finger pointing, we defend our beliefs with sweat blood and tears.

The harsh truth is each one of us is doing it because we think it is the better way. We wholeheartedly believe that we are on the right path and want our loved ones to recognize, validate and join our journey. But what we forget or neglect is that each individual is on their unique path and we cannot change or convince them otherwise. All we can do is support, understand and listen but most importantly unite. Unite in our love for life. Unite in our love for peace. Unite in our love for the world. Unite every day like we did after 9/11, Paris, Florida, Irma, Manchester, Las Vegas.

Let’s stand united in the name of all the victims of brutality with love and kindness in our hearts for their loved ones who have to cope with so much loss and pain.

The topic of unity always brings me back to a famous Charlie Chaplin speech made in a 1040 film The Great Dictator. His bone-chilling words continue to resonate almost 80 years later. If you have yet to see this speech, please take a moment to see it here.

Sending you love, peace and unity my friends. Be kind to one another. Love, support and appreciate each moment we get to share on this unpredictable journey of life.

With Love,
Alyana

Is your fear of failure holding you back from reaching your goals?

Do you remember your first kiss? How about your first job? Maybe the day you finally passed your driving test? First concert? The first time you rode the bike?

There are certain special moments in our lives that become so deeply memorable, it’s as if they become engraved in our souls. Many of those memories are our first experiences.

In our younger years, we tend to do a whole lot of learning. We are risky, adventurous, energetic and eager. We try new things without hesitation. Some of those decisions turn out great, some not so much (like that lower back tattoo your mom didn’t want you to get, by the way, you were right about that one mom.)

This is why so many people refer to their younger years as the good old days. (to my younger readers, role play with me, pretend I’m talking to the older you;) Just because we may be getting older, it does not mean we have to stop trying new things, it shouldn’t mean we have to become old, stale and boring.

Learning a new skill can feel overwhelming, I know. The idea of doing something I’ve never done before used to scare me half to death. I was petrified of failure, which is why I stuck to my familiar and comfortable routines. I cautiously spent my time doing what I knew how to do well which inevitably became old and boring.

One day my sister gave me one of the greatest gifts of all time (thanks, sis). She recommended a book that completely changed my perspective. The book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carole S. Dweck, Ph.D., showed me that within each one of us lives incredible potential to develop our unique talents. It also taught me that fear of failure is the reason most of us won’t pursue our passions, follow our dreams or even follow through with our goals. I learned that all successful people have failed at one thing or another but always find the courage to get back up in the end. This book inspired me, motivated me, and ignited a fire of curiosity.

This new perspective got me thinking: what else can I be good at? What can I master? What hidden talents can I tap into? Is there more out there for me to learn and love?

This became somewhat of an obsession for me. Since reading the “Mindset” I took up art classes, turns out I’m not bad at drawing. I had no idea. I also took on playing the piano. While I’m still no Mozart, I did learn a few songs that light up my heart with joy whenever I play. Turns out I’m not terrible at piano either. In order to challenge myself physically, I joined a martial arts class which made me a stronger, more confident and more resilient me than I’ve ever been.

If you told me two years ago that I would be studying martial arts, I would have laughed out loud. Today it is not only one of my favorite hobbies but is also an important part of my identity.

This new adventurous and risk-taking me is someone I did not know before. These days I actively seek out new learning opportunities and I am always up for a new experience. I’ve learned that there is no better feeling than mastering a new skill. The excitement, the happy juice that flows all over my body when I learn something new, is exhilarating! This excitement is exactly what we need to keep us young at heart and filled with passion and purpose.

Today I can’t believe that for so many years I’ve allowed my fear of failure to prevent me from learning all these amazing and exciting skills I cherish today.

How about you my friend? What are you really good at? What would you love to learn? Is fear of failure holding you back? Do not allow fear of the unknown prevent you from learning new skills.

Have you ever wanted to learn another language? Or maybe learn how to dance salsa? How about picking up an instrument or playing a new sport?

Whatever it is that intrigues you, give it a try. Just maybe you are awesome at it?

I invite you to find out.

If you need a little motivation, pick up a copy of the “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”! As most things, you can purchase it on Amazon 🙂 buy it here

Sending you love, peace, and good vibrations, today and always.

With love, Alyana

For more soul searching strategies check out these articles Not Getting What You Want? and Surviving in an Overachieving World

 

Summer Poetry – Beneath the Great Unknown

This summer I got to enjoy a clear starry night with almost no light pollution. It felt surreal. I was captivated by their beauty and amazed at how many stars are available for our viewing pleasure each night but how rarely we are actually able to see them. Where I live, light pollution rules the sky, which is why I seek out places where the light has yet to take the throne.

One night this summer while camping on a beach I was inspired to write a few words that express my love for the stars. Today I want to share that with you in honor of summer, in honor of time, in honor of life.

 

Beneath the Great Unknown

There’s something special about gazing at the stars
No light pollution, city noise or cars

We smile as we get lost beneath the great unknown
No interruptions, no reception on our phone

The midnight chill dominates the air
The conversation’s steaming, feet are bare

We lie beneath the studded sky
Talking about what ifs and whys

We ponder about what the future holds
While the worlds greatest show, in front of us unfolds

Our ears are tuned into the ocean
And just like that, worry becomes a silly notion

I see the universe reflecting in your eyes
Childish, beautiful yet wise

Today we found a new dimension
A place of wonder, kindness, and intention

This moment we will forever own
A king and queen under the stars
swinging on their throne

With love, Alyana

If you share my love for stars, please help me share this poem with our fellow night sky lovers via your favorite social media link below! 

 

Craving more poetry?  Check out some of my favorite works: Young Love and Dreaming of a Better Life