Updated: Mar 7
My life has always included lots of challenges. They started with my conception. You see, I was an accident. LITERALLY. My mother was told she couldn’t have any more children after experiencing several miscarriages. Twelve years went by and then, surprise, suddenly she was pregnant with me. It was such a shock, it took 6 months before my dad was convinced it was happening. When I arrived, it was on a military base in Okinawa, where, as a fair-haired child, I caused quite a commotion. Apparently, all the locals wanted their picture taken with the blonde baby-san. There were pictures of me as a toddler surrounded by 20 men in business suits, none of whom my family knew. And, I was a weirdly independent child. Happy to be in just my own company. So much so, my mother used to tell me how my father wanted to take me back to the hospital because he was certain they gave my family the wrong baby. She thought it was a funny story, but I think that was when I first learned it wasn’t a good thing to be different. And from that point forward, I would work really hard to conform any time someone considered something I did odd.
I became a grade A people pleaser. My mom didn’t like that I enjoyed hanging out by myself surrounded by nature and my imaginary friends (more about them later). So, I tried really hard to make friends and fit in with the popular crowd. Like desperately. Of course, that didn’t work and, instead, made me the butt of many jokes and a lot of bullying, most of which, surprisingly, rolled off my back. I didn’t much care what you said or did to me, but if you went after my sister or my friends, watch it! Then my dad got sick. There were lots of trips to the doctors and weeks he would be in the hospital. Mom did her best to keep things as normal as she could, but it was an impossible battle. When he died, everything changed.
People grieve in different ways.
While my family wanted to huddle up with each other and cry, I wanted to go to the band concert I was performing in, as it was the last one. (Mom always told me how dad would cry when he heard us playing at the football games because he couldn’t watch me. I thought this time he finally could.) What I didn’t know was my decision would cause a huge rift with my mother that would carry through our relationship. (She would tell me later how much she hated me because of it, but at least we were able to clear the air before she died.)
After dad’s death, I ended up stepping into being the man of the house – taking care of the lawn and fixing things when they were broken. And the more I did, the more my mother began relying on me. I became her sounding board for decisions. Mind you, I was only a teenager, but I was the shoulder she leaned on when she was struggling, especially financially. I did what it took to keep our family together and happy, even quitting college to help put my younger sister through when my mom complained about being able to pay for her tuition. How you might ask? I paid rent to stay in my old room at our family home.
Eventually I married, had a son, built a home and a life away from my family, although we all lived close and still saw each other on a regular basis. I had some challenges in my marriage (another woman) and business life (bias against women, sexual harassment) but the next really big challenge was yet to come.
In 2003, the tech bubble burst and I lost my corporate job. My husband, Mike, who liked the money but not the hours I spent away from home, wanted me to be more available for our son. Since we were sitting pretty well off, I took a new job with better hours but a substantial (read $100K+) cut in pay. But, I learned these jobs were not as stable so, there were a series of them I went through before things settled down finally in early 2006. Then Mike died. He was 46. He had an unusual type of stroke that was misdiagnosed until things went too far south for him to recover. (Dealing with everything that happened during his time in the hospital was another huge challenge, but it’s not one I’m going to talk about here. The feelings are difficult to convey by mere words on paper.)
It turned out his death wasn’t the only thing I had to deal with though....
I wound up in a huge financial bind. We had insurance and it should have paid off our home and cars, but it didn’t. You see, when we took out the policy, I was the main bread winner by a substantial margin so, to save money, we chose to only cover me on the payout. Of course, that occurred when we were in our 20s and we never thought about it again, so it ended up being a rather unpleasant surprise. Not only did I now need to cover the mortgage and car payments, but we had also taken out a home equity loan for some upgrades we did to the house that I needed to pay off. One that it turned out, Mike had been using to cover our bills and not telling me. Then, there was a second loan he had taken out on his own without my knowledge to fund a business venture he was planning. (I knew about the venture but I didn’t know he was already investing our money in it.) Yes, Mike had life insurance, but I now had substantial hospital bills beyond what his medical insurance would cover as well.
Now mind you, none of this would have been an issue on my corporate salary but, I was no longer making six figures. In fact, I wasn’t even making $35K. There was no way I was going to be able to cover these expenses, on top of food and utilities. But I kept on rolling. I kept on trying to keep everything going like nothing was wrong. I sent our son off to college on a student loan I didn’t have a prayer of being able to pay off. I covered his expenses when he blew up his credit cards. I sold off the cars I wouldn’t use but only made enough to pay off the loans. I tried to get a second job but couldn’t get hired. Even though I was only in my 40s, my age didn’t help. Then I lost my job. And then another one (the company closed). And then a third one. (This because I took time off to plan my mother's funeral. They fired me the day I came back.) I began selling off anything I could make some money on – our riding mower, furniture, jewelry, even our wedding rings. I attempted to put the house on the market, only to have realtors turn it down. The bank began to send foreclosure notices on my house and set it up for auction.
I was so beaten down and ashamed.
How had I gotten to this point? I was jobless, beyond broke, and ready to be homeless. My self esteem was so low that when a friend got me a job, I was so sure I would fail at it that it took me a month to send in the paperwork, even though the job was already mine! I finally did though and it turned out to be the best decision I could have made! The people I worked with embraced me and my situation. My friend found a real estate agent who agreed to put my house up for a short sale. The guys coaxed, cajoled, and pushed me which started boosting my confidence. Now, I still hadn’t told my family how bad off things were. When they finally arrived to help me do a yard sale, they found me living in a house with a mattress and a lamp, sitting on the floor, eating the one meal a day I was able to afford. My pride had kept me from asking for help.
Eventually, the house sold and I was able to pay off the original mortgage. (The home equity loans would eventually be taken as a loss by the bank several years later.) I moved in with family, who lovingly supported me until I could get back on my feet. When I struggled to find a job, they encouraged me to go back to college, which I did, eventually earning a B.S. in Criminal Justice/Forensics, and getting a job with one of the local police departments. I couldn’t have recovered without the help of these individuals, many of whom are no longer a part of my life, family included (but that’s another story). And there have been more challenges since, but this one truly changed my life as I literally had to start over from scratch, and that included discovering who I was (more on that later). There was a lot of soul searching involved, but one of the things I learned was my soul chose to experience challenges.
I won’t get into how I learned that today, but suffice it to say, it was an eye-opening revelation, and definitely part of my soul discovery.
With everything I had been through, and am still going through, I was beginning to think I was being paid back for some seriously bad karma in a past life. Learning that my soul CHOSE to undergo challenges, as a means of learning how to move through them so, I could help others do the same, lifted a weight off me I didn’t even know existed until it was gone. I cannot express the freedom that came from that realization. I had already started to reframe the challenges and obstacles life dropped in my lap, but this was a true game changer. Now, I see each new situation as a learning opportunity. It takes me out of my head and into my heart. Instead of woes me, this sucks, I look at it as a gift, one that I get to experience and then share with others. Does that make the challenge any easier? No, not really. But, knowing there’s a reason behind the difficulty makes it a bit more tolerable. Besides, what challenges us makes us stronger and I’m all about growth.
How about you? What's happened in your life that's forced you to grow?