THE MAJOR SETBACKS I THOUGHT I’D NEVER RECOVER FROM (AND HOW I DID)


Sometimes life deals us heartbreaking blows.  In those moments, you may think you’ll never recover.  In the aftermath, you probably spend a lot of time feeling like you’ve been run over by a bus or water boarded.  Sometimes you’ll wake up wondering how you’re going to make it through even a single day.  You’ll often fall asleep telling yourself that you don’t have the strength to cope.  But you will recover, you can cope with whatever life throws at you, and you will eventually come out stronger on the other side.  Here’s proof.

  1. Screwing Up at Work

When we make a mistake at work, we often think it’s the end of the world.  It’s not.  When I was just a second-year lawyer, I walked out of a deposition because opposing counsel (who was incredibly cocky and obnoxious) harassed my client by asking completely inappropriate, embarrassing, and irrelevant questions.  Walking out in the middle of a deposition was risky, but I thought my actions were justified given the circumstances.  The judge disagreed.  He issued a scathing ruling and ordered me and my former law firm to each pay $5,000 in monetary sanctions.  Ouch.

A few months later, my boss assigned me to be lead counsel in a federal trial (against the same opposing counsel who got me sanctioned in the deposition debacle, no less).  I was less than one minute into my opening statement when the judge threw the book at me.  Literally.  He grabbed the Federal Rules of Evidence (which is a very thick hardbound book, by the way), and launched it over the bench at me.  Thankfully, the book hit the podium (and then the floor) before it hit me.

Was I mortified by these events?  Of course.  Were they career ending?  Nope.  They were forgotten the moment something more important happened.

  1. Blowout Fights with Relatives

Family dynamics are rarely a walk in the park.  The deeper you know someone, the more likely you are to see their cracks, scars, and triggers.  No family is immune to challenges.  I haven’t spoken to my father or my oldest brother in nearly two years.  Some days, I am very mindful of our disconnection and feel sad and rejected.  But thanks to the truly transformative mindset and personal development work that I have done (and continue to do), I don’t dwell in negativity and judgment when those feelings start to weigh on me.  Instead, I process my feelings and always come back to loving and accepting myself, and focusing on my personal growth.

  1. Growing Apart from Friends

This happens a lot, especially as you get older.  It’s OK.  Here’s a little secret: Not all friendships are meant to last a lifetime.  As Baz Luhrmann’s song Wear Sunscreen suggests, “Understand that friends come and go, but to a precious few you should hold on.”  You know your precious few.  Prioritize them.

  1. Losing a Parent

I’m not sure you ever get past losing a parent.  My mother died of a sudden heart attack in the bathroom of the Treasure Island in Las Vegas.  My father was in the other room but didn’t find her until it was too late.  When she died, I was on an airplane flying from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to spend the weekend with my parents.  I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to her, and I argued with her right before I boarded my flight.  I was consumed with regret, guilt, anger, and grief for years.

But those feelings changed shaped over time.  I eventually forgave myself, and I started focusing on the gifts and blessings that my mother gave me.  Now, there is one thing I know for sure: I still have a mother, just not in physical form.  My mother was with me in spirit on my wedding day.  And she is with me every day in the way that I love my fur babies and my husband, in my love of books, and in my knack for baking.

Take this to heart: Love is stronger than death.  And love never leaves you.

  1. Discovering that My Ex-Boyfriend Cheated on Me . . . Thanks to a Trip to the Emergency Room

I can laugh about this incredibly surreal and messy experience now, but when it happened it rocked my world.  I’ve never “gone public” with this story, but I couldn’t leave this one off the list.

I was living in Los Angeles, practicing law, and I had been dating another lawyer (I’ll call him John) for almost two years.  One Saturday night, John took me out for a romantic date night – an amazing meal at one of the best Italian restaurants in town followed by the opera and a late-night cocktail at a rooftop hotel.  It was one of the best nights of my life.  Until . . .

We were back at John’s apartment watching a movie when he suddenly complained of severe stomach pain and a blinding headache.  He took Pepto Bismol and Excedrin, but an hour later he wasn’t feeling any better.  In fact, he said he was feeling even worse.  So, I grabbed the keys to his car and drove him to the UCLA Emergency Department.

After waiting for at least an hour (it was now around 2:00 a.m.), John finally went into a room.  I was a nervous wreck, but I wasn’t allowed to go back with him.  My mind was racing, and I couldn’t stop pacing in the waiting room.  Finally, the double doors opened and a doctor emerged calling my name.  He asked me to accompany him to John’s room.

I had officially entered panic mode.  What the heck was going on?!?!?!?!?!?!

John was pacing around the room wearing just a hospital gown and black dress socks (I’m telling you, the image is forever burned in my mind).  I ran up to him and noticed that he was sweating.  A lot.  He didn’t really look sick anymore . . . he looked anxious and sheepish.

I couldn’t contain my nerves any longer.  I shrieked, “What is going on, doctor?  Does he have food poisoning?  Bad gas?  Or is it something serious?”

John kept pacing but said nothing.

The doctor said, “John, I think you need to explain this to Karen.”

Still, John said nothing.  His face was bright red and he was sweating profusely.

The doctor spoke for John.  “Karen, physically John is fine.  You see, his symptoms are just psychosomatic.  What that means is that there is no physical basis for his symptoms; his current mental state is causing this physical discomfort.”

“What is his current mental state?  John, what is going on with you mentally?”

When John remained silent, the doctor interjected.  “John, you need to tell her why you are so stressed and anxious.”

Now I was in his face.  “John??”

Finally, he spoke.  “Ok, ok.  I’ve been trying to tell you this for a week, but I haven’t had the guts.”  He was still pacing and clutching the back of his hospital gown to try and keep it closed.  “A few weeks ago, I went to a house party in the Hollywood Hills with some of my buddies.  I got really drunk and kissed a few women that I met there.”

Before I could speak, the doctor interjected again.  “John, you need to tell her the truth.”

I was so confused.  I just stood staring at John.  “Yes, John, at this point the truth would be nice.”

“Ok, ok.  Jeez.  The truth is I had sex with those two women at the party.  And they were professional escorts.  And I didn’t use any protection.  And I’ve been worrying that they may have given me a sexually transmitted disease, and that I may have given it to you.”  His voice trailed off.  And then he said, “But I think I’m just being paranoid.  And I love you.”

I felt like my head was going to explode.  Say what?!?!?  Did I just hear all of that correctly?  Are we on the same planet right now?

Somehow, I had the presence of mind to speak.  “Wasn’t that the night you told me you were hanging out with your sister?”

John swallowed hard, and then said “Yes.”

“Well, I appreciate you being honest with me.”  John looked . . . relieved.  And then he reached out to grab my hand.

As soon as his fingers touched my right hand, I raised my left hand and slapped him.  HARD.  And then I got right in his face, smiled, and said, “I hope your stomach feels better, sweetie.  And I hope your dick falls off.”

And I walked out of the hospital, and out of John’s life.

***

In my forties, I’ve come to define maturity as the wisdom to control certain emotions that get in the way of seeing the real world.  The real world can be harsh, yes.  It’s full of uncertainty and change.  But it’s full of gorgeous things too—love, adventure, forgiveness, growth, and courage.

I’ve also realized that it is often by confronting our toughest obstacles that we find our greatest strengths and possibilities – even if we’ve got to dig deep to find them.  As mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “Where you stumble, there your treasure is.”

 

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