Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rising from the ashes - Don't let life's setbacks define you

This dusty little corner of cyberspace attracts its fair share of email. I get all manner of messages suggesting topics to write on, causes wanting some promotion and books looking for reviews. I read every message in my inbox, and though I usually ignore them, I have reviewed one book.

A recent email asked me to review a book that isn't yet published. Jan Reuter and Dr. William Borgen are writing a book called 'Recession Proof Your Career'. Their PR firm contacted Canadian Soapbox asking for assistance in finding success stories to be featured in the book.

"It only takes one person's story to change someone's outlook and positively impact their financial future". 

That's one line from the email I received, and I agree with it. It's called a testimonial, I've seen it used many times and I've seen it make a positive impact on people's lives.  Hearing or reading a story about someone's experience in overcoming adversity can help another person going through a hard time.

There are all kinds of motivational speakers and writers out there, and suffice to say I know I'm not one. But regardless I am going to give it a try. I don't expect my story to become fodder for a feature film, nothing like The Pursuit of Happiness or anything like that. Still, I have overcome some challenges in my life, and sharing my story might have an impact with others facing similar difficulties.

I've come to realize that a lot of life is about momentum.

Have you ever created a whirlpool in a swimming pool? You start going around and around in a circle, trudging through the water, labouring to create a current. At first you find it difficult, your legs and arms pumping to move forward through viscous water. But after a short time it starts getting easier, the water forms the desired current and instead of trudging, your steps become easier as the water almost carries you along. 

Life can be like that a lot of the time. We create a current around ourselves and we go with the flow. If the movement is positive, we float along happily, employing a little extra effort when we want things to move faster, gliding along when we need a break. Sometimes though, life pushes the water in the other direction, and we find ourselves fighting the current.  If it gets too hard, we can find ourselves slipping backwards. And when someone is unable to find the energy, strength or motivation to alter the current, they can get turned around and lives start to unravel. 

That's what happened to me the year I turned forty. I was married, with two kids and had a promising new career. I wouldn't say the current in my positive little whirlpool was tidal, but it was comfortable. Sadly the current changed, and for a long time I found myself being pushed in the opposite direction. 

They say the three most stressful experiences in life are divorce, death and job loss. I was hit with all three in the span of about one year. Divorce tops the list of life's stressing events because in many ways its like a death. What makes it all the more stressing is that the funeral never ends. I won't go into detail except to say I had to deal with betrayal, not just once but twice. I was betrayed both by my ex wife and by someone I thought was a friend. 

The death that followed was that of my mother. The woman who bore me, who guided and taught me was gone. A wonderful lady who held my hand when she walked me to school, and taught me so much.

A few months after that, my promising new career was at an end as well. I was working on strict commission as a consultant in the area of personal finance and wasn't earning anything. My own finances were a mess.  Its hard to inspire confidence in potential clients when you're living on credit. 

Fast forward a couple of years and I was working the midnight shift for the LCBO as a shipping receiving clerk through a temporary employment agency. 

After the divorce I wanted to continue picking up my children every day from school as I'd done before the break up. Working midnights enabled me to do that. And thanks to the fact that I was living with my widowed father, they each had their own room on my weeknds. 

I was struggling along in my little pool of life, but the current was working against me, and I couldn't get it moving in a positive direction. I'd worked several menial jobs for about two years.  I was a general labourer, a janitor and I unloaded trailers in a warehouse.  I was taking any graveyard shift job I could find, so that I could continue seeing my kids during the week. 

Slowly I came to realize that the path I was on, or better yet, the river I was sailing, that it was emptying into a body of water that was nothing but a dead and stagnant lake. In another ten years I would likely be bankrupt, and I couldn't see my kids respecting their father. 

I had to make a change. I had to make some decisions.

Making a decision is an important step. If you're going on a vacation you first have to decide on a destination. Until that decision is made its pointless worrying about the mode of transport or what you're going to pack. If you're only going a short distance you might drive, or maybe you'll take a bus or a train. If the destination is hundreds or thousands of miles away you'll probably fly. What you pack is determined by the weather at your destination. 

My destination was a place of increased financial security, and it was a place where my children would be proud of their father.   I decided to look into the Canadian Forces.  

When I was around the age of eleven my room looked like an armed forces advertisement.  The local mall in Beaverton Oregon (I spent a lot of my younger years growing up in the U.S.) had recruitment centres for the U.S. army, navy and air force.  My friends and I would visit and collect old posters, decals and other stuff to put up in our rooms.  

Perhaps that's what made me consider the military, I honestly don't know where the idea originated, maybe from my subconscious.  It was certainly something out of the ordinary for a then forty two year old to be considering.  

I won't go into heavy detail, but it was a difficult transition, both physically and mentally.  Some friends and family were supportive while others questioned my sanity. My sister said that they wouldn't take me, and that even if they did, I'd never be able to pass basic training.  She was wrong on both counts.

Its now two and half years down the line and the water in my pool is moving forward again.  I have a nice apartment near the base here in Québec where I'm living with my financé.  We will be married soon.  

I wouldn't say my life is perfect, but I am certainly in a a much better place now than where I was.  And definitely better than where I was heading if I hadn't changed course.  

Obviously I don't see my children as often as I used to.  But I talk to big brother Basketball Star and the Princess Raspberry almost every day.  They spent two weeks here having a fabulous vacation. And whenever I am able I travel to the GTA on weekends and spend time with them.  This past weekend I hosted Raspberry's eighth birthday at my father's house.

But the bottom line here with my story is that I had started to let a tragic event, divorce, define my life.  I was Gordie, the guy who had gotten divorced.  Well, I've changed that narrative and now I'm Gordie, the guy who joined the military in his forties and who is getting married soon.  

Don't let events define who you are, take the action necessary to write a positive and affirming autobiography.  

The comment section is open if you want to share an inspiring story, or if you're seeking inspiration from others.  If you want to send something to the authors of 'Recession Proof Your Career' you can visit the website: www.rpycareer.com

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