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  • Writer's pictureJosh Killam, LPC

Life Will Always Catch You by Surprise

It is really tough, this life. Trying to do the right thing. Thinking we are doing the right thing only to find out later on that we missed something. Which then leads to feelings of failure and shame, then rinse and repeat. Our hearts are in the right place, our intentions are pure, and yet something catches us off guard, then we get knocked on our ass. Why is this? Malevolence? Ignorance? The answer, as always, is probably somewhere in between. I wrote recently about self-deception. At first glance, the idea of self-deception can feel provocative. As if self-deception is some evil trick we play on ourselves and others.

However, I don't think it is that direct. Self-deception is more subtle than that. Like I said in a previous blog, we are blind to ourselves. We don't know what we don't know. If we are not careful, it can go further than that. It gets tricky when we actively avoid looking at what we don't want to see. Why? I am not quite sure the answer to that. It might be because we know the answer and don't want to face it; that is the obvious first one. Another idea is because we are naive. This is true, but that doesn't seem to do it justice. Yes, there is a form of naïveté that can get us in trouble, but what about when we recognize the problem? How deep does our naivete go?

There are always layers and layers of depth to us. Layers of our pain. Our hurt. There is an indescribable depth to who we are. There will always be something else to catch you by surprise. You will always get hurt again. Life is tragic that way. I guess the goal is to not get hurt in the same way twice or not make the same mistake twice. If you do, then the goal becomes not get hurt the same way thrice. How do we protect ourselves from this? We look at what we did. We look at our part in the scenario. We always have a role. So if you don't think you have a role in how you were hurt, then you do not know yourself, so start there. Pay attention to why it is you think you are not responsible. Maybe you think you are the victim; this is a valid claim because you might be. It might be the case that you have justified reasons for feeling as if you are a victim. You might objectively be a victim. Still, there is not much to do with that status except to stay in a blaming mindset. The way forward for you is and will always be taking responsibility for how you were hurt. There are always caveats and exceptions to this rule. I recently wrote about a few detailing pathological responsibilities. In general, your best path forward is to take responsibility for your part and demand the same for those around you. If everyone takes ownership of themselves, then everyone is thus taken care of.

Acknowledging responsibility for our actions or how it feels when someone has hurt or betrayed us is often the best thing we could do for ourselves. Why? Because we can expect the same from someone else when we let them down or fall short of an obligation. If the expectation is that each of us takes responsibility, then we are covered on all sides. The technical nature of taking responsibility leads us to consider other's needs and feelings. If we focus on others and others are focused on us, we are all working in a synchronistic way. I am not naive enough to think, or maybe I am, that everyone does this or will do this perfectly all the time. Again, this is a reason life is tragic. People in our lives will constantly fall short of this ideal and hurt us. Guess what? You will continuously fall short and let others down. The world will do a pretty damn good job of breaking you. From my experience, I do not see a better option than learning accountability for where you are in life.

I have heard the phrase "it's a difficult season or a blessed season " used in religious circles As if life is a series of alternating seasons. I tend to agree with this idea. Regardless of the work and effort, we put into personal growth and discovery, it seems that life will continually surprise us. Life is a rotating spindle, vacillating between good and evil, lucky and unlucky. Grace and tragedy. How do we stop this? We don't. We take responsibility for this part of life and work to strengthen ourselves in ways that allow us to learn from "difficult seasons." This is by no means easy. Even the solutions to our problems can find ways to evade us when we need them most.

An example of this is the idea of gratitude. We are often told that it is vital to learn to be grateful or show gratitude despite our struggles. Another example that I just used, difficult times in our lives add value, so remember to take advantage of them. These solutions are not wrong and are often well-intended. I am trying to make the point that this process is not as easy as it might sound. I don't know about everyone else, but I find it hard to express gratitude for the emotional pain and struggle that comes with tragedy. When I am amid hardship, and all I can see is negative, the last thing I am looking for is gratitude. It is almost as if that option has been completely removed. All of my resources are moved into some sort of survival mode.

Emotional stressors (difficult season), when dealt with appropriately, help strengthen us and are invaluable to our growth. However, it is unreasonable to think we should just be good at using the bad to our benefit. Especially if we don't know what to do with it. Like I said before, we can tend toward a victim mindset and wonder, "why are these things happening to me?" This is not a judgment; I am right there with you. It almost feels like the natural thing to do. To ask, why me? I don't know the answer to that. What I do know is that if you live long enough with your eyes open, you will see that you will get hit with something, hard, more than once, no matter your effort in trying to avoid hardships. The goal then might be not to get hit with the same thing more than once.

What do we do instead? We pick up the burden and do our best to understand how we had a part in it. That's all we can do. Judgment and bitterness free. We do not have the luxury of feeling judgment and shame of ourselves. These feelings turn into contempt, which can lead to nihilism and cynicism. We have all had our taste of those, which is not a recipe I am interested in considering. Nihilism leads to despair and hopelessness. What then? Just give up. No! No one actually believes that giving up will actually work—even those of us who are pessimistic about the future. No one, at their core, truly wants to give up. We might have moments of wanting to give up, but they do not often last, and if you are lucky enough to not take some drastic, irreversible action, then you end up waking up for another day. What then? Recognize that you are worthy of the love and effort that it will take to find your part in the story of your life.

There will always be a multitude of reasons to give up or not "care." There are more ways for things to go wrong in your life than there are solutions to those problems. Your response might be, "well, that's not very hopeful." I would disagree. Knowing that there is a solution is all the hope we need. The struggle is finding the right one. There are ten ways to do something wrong and only a few ways to do it right. What do we do with those odds? We pay attention so that we only make the same mistake three times before finding a solution. When we dismiss our shortcomings as inconsequential, we close the door to learning from our mistakes. I am not suggesting that making mistakes is a prerequisite to solving problems. I am only suggesting that making mistakes is a reality we must contend with.

The challenges that life throws at us are often unreasonable and unfair. This is not a truth that we can afford to ignore. I don't know what else to do other than accept it. By taking what life has dealt, you open yourself up for growth. Acceptance is no simple matter. It is not a repetitive mantra of, "I accept this, I accept that..." Acceptance is an action. It is a behavior that we must act out. One way of acting out acceptance is by taking responsibility for the tragedy in your life. The rewards that come from this are indescribable. They make life worth it. Whatever you are going through, if you can pay attention to it and take responsibility where possible, you will get to the other side. If you do your best to tell the truth and take ownership of your life, you might find what you need.

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