When life gives you lemons

Tonda Bian,

Tonda is a Life, Career and Personal Development Coach who works with clients throughout the US and Canada by telephone and Skype communications.

Life changes and major life challenges usually come with a high degree of stress and discomfort. The change or transition is always accompanied by anxiety or fear and the question is, “How will I get through this?” The transition can include issues relating to health, family/marriage, career, social or community life or just the feeling that some kind of change is imminent or necessary. Sometimes, we go through multiple experiences that can easily manifest as traumatic.

Sofie’s husband had just started medical school when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. They also had a child only a few months old. Expenses were formidable before her diagnosis, but after, they became what appeared insurmountable—living expenses, insurances, medical school tuition and child care to name a few. Sofie was supporting the family. Yet, with her illness, she might have to cut her full-time job to a part-time one or quit depending on her treatment protocol and the status of her health. Before the news, they had figured out how to manage financially and their lives were going fine in every way. Now, it was all one big question.

After 25 years of what Ann thought was a good marriage, her husband asked for a divorce. She was in shock and didn’t know what to do first. The kids were grown, she hadn’t worked outside her home since their first child was born 22 years earlier. Her life revolved around her family, and after they left home, her husband was the center of her life. She had a few good friends, but other than that, her life was tied to his. She fell into a deep depression and didn’t know what to do. She became reclusive and spent most of her days watching television followed by restless nights.

Both of these stories are heavy duty situations, but in fact, what first appears to be a huge negative can be turned around primarily by three things: state of mind, a plan and most importantly– action. Since life can turn on a dime, using these tools will help each person discover the possibilities when tackling challenges and reinventing life.

Certainly Sofie‘s and Ann’s sudden news came as a huge blow and the first step they needed to take was to fully experience their emotions. Both women had to let themselves work through their feelings rather than block them. At the same time, they needed to feel self compassion understanding that they had a right to be human in having highs and lows, but hold on to the fact that they could get through it.

During the early stages of change, it is important to avoid negative reinforcement such as viewing individual situations as disasters or insurmountable obstacles where the future seems bleak, that nothing could be worse. Instead, it is vital to look at the situation realistically and discover what good might come out of it all. Rather than feeling powerless, each person needs to adopt a “State of Mind” that can serve growth. For Sofie and Ann, each needed to embrace their lives as they knew it in the present and then move on by clarifying and prioritizing the next steps to take. This can only happen by changing pessimism to optimism, believing in something bigger in life and that there is a reason for their current challenge, not thinking of it as a huge problem or trauma. It is believing that there will be a “Light at the End of the Tunnel”.

The good news is that through good advisors, both Sofie and Ann were able to move forward by surrounding themselves with good people. Sofie and her husband sought the opinions of a cross-section of medical professionals and decided to take an integrative route at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. They also secured a financial advisor to help them lay out a plan for their expenses and how they could manage their money. In the midst of this, they each worked with a Life Coach who helped them develop their priorities, set goals and an action plan as a synchronized effort. It gave them a sense of direction and that they were more in control of their future.

A friend of Ann’s also recommended a coach, but for her, the answer was a Personal Divorce Coach who would help her work through the issues of divorce and help her establish goals and a plan of action to move forward with her new life. Her coach also helped her find counsel for legal and financial direction and together, they discovered what professional interests Ann had and she began taking courses in a local community education program.

Both Sofie and Ann also decided on spiritual coaching: Sofie with a spiritual, faith-based coach, and Ann with her pastor. With the help of their advisors and coaches, they each found that a “Plan of Attack” helped them move forward realizing that their challenges could serve as gifts in disguise. Their plans also helped them feel empowered rather than helpless.

Their coaches helped them look at another highly valuable tool which is examining the four basic human needs which are: Certainty, Significance, Variety and Love/Connection and each person places more value on one or two more than the others. For Sofie, her need was to pursue “Certainty” more than anything at this point in her life. She needed to secure professionals and services that would help her feel good about making the best decisions for her health which also translated into “Certainty” for her family. She already had the “Love/Connection” and “Significance” with her family, friends and colleagues, and at this point, “Variety” (having fun and doing different activities) was the least of her priorities at least for the present time, but she and her husband would still take time for things they enjoyed doing as a family.

Ann discovered that “Certainty” was also her priority. Securing her financial future and how she would manage her life during divorce and post divorce would help her best make the transition. “Significance” was second. She knew she was no longer significant to her husband, but needed to make sure she was with her three children and would include them in the transition in as positive a way as possible. Her coach also guided her to reestablish relationships with any friends she felt would be supportive, stand by her and who would approach their friendship in a way that reflected Ann’s life change. She also expanded her horizons and joined groups where she could meet new people and establish new friendships with both men and women socially and as a volunteer. Through her “Significance” actions, she was also addressing “Love/Connection” and “Variety” needs.

The bottom line in going through any kind of life challenge is to examine personal needs, wants and goals and find resources to meet them which means establishing a vision for the future and formulating a plan of attack to work toward that vision. Finally, no vision can become a reality without taking ACTION toward those new goals each and every day because action creates results and will change anyone’s life for the better.