We’ve all encountered rough patches in our lives; those times that if felt like every open door was quickly and violently being slammed in our faces; when our best just didn’t seem good enough; when you felt like you were struggling to tread water but you were still sinking. But thankfully, you made it through and in the process, you found out exactly what you are made of.
Or maybe you didn’t.
Maybe you still see those times as negative. Maybe you didn’t find the lesson in the hardship. Maybe you can’t find a thing to be thankful for in the struggle. This exercise is designed to help you see what you’ve missed.
Think of three incredibly rough times in your life. Go back as far as you need to find them. Having trouble? Let me help. Here are my three rough times.
The year my parents split, I was 15 or 16. Some days, I’m not sure that I learned anything from that situation, and then there are other days I feel like I learned all I ever needed to know about life from that situation. What I know for sure is that there was a lot of good that (eventually) came from that situation. For one thing, my Mom discovered who she is and what she’s really capable of in life. That was an invaluable gift.
The year I lived in New Jersey was the loneliest year of my life. I was there the for the first anniversary of 9/11 and the train from Jersey City to Manhattan hadn’t been reopened yet. I worked in NYC and all of the people that I knew lived in NYC, but I couldn’t stay to hang out after work because I had to catch the last ferry to Jersey because I didn’t have a car. I was living in an illegal apartment in the attic of a brownstone. It had bugs. Really big bugs that seemed immune to Raid. I was consistently broke, so broke that all I could afford to do was go to work and eat, and I could barely do that. I got sick that year and I wasn’t sure what was wrong. The doctors I saw didn’t know what the problem was either and instead of saying so, they all made me feel like I was crazy and making the whole thing up. That year taught me that I’m a lot tougher than I ever thought I was. Having endured that year, I am pretty sure that I can get through almost anything.
My first year of law school was tough in a lot of ways. I was living in Alexandria, VA with my sister and going to school in Baltimore, MD. It was a 46 mile trip each way, which took an hour or more with traffic, and I was driving a tired 1982 Mercedes diesel station wagon. On its best days, it would go from zero to 60 in about two minutes. On its worst days, I felt like I was pushing the car with my sheer will. Early one Tuesday morning, I picked the car up from the shop after a very expensive repair. You see, that car loved to leak oil from every possible (and sometimes impossible) opening. I was on my way Contracts class in the pouring down rain when the car completely gave out on me, not 10 miles from the auto shop. I was stuck on the side of 495 in the pouring rain and all I could do was cry while I watched oil stream from my car and run down the road like a small river. I don’t remember how I got to school that day, but I remember the Dean of our school saw me crying about the situation and he called me into his office. He told me that I was in school because it was part of a bigger plan. He said that God would handle the details and I shouldn’t worry about the car situation. I heard what he was saying but I didn’t know how to stop worrying about it. Not having a car could mean having to drop out of school in my mind. But of course, my Dean was right. My Dad was able to put me in a rental until we could scrape together enough money for a used car. That experience solidified my faith and I look back on it as the beginning of a shift in my thinking.
So what are your three rough patches in life and how did they turn out to be something for which you should be thankful?