“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor E. Frankl.
In a rather eventful and possibly record-breaking two-week period in mid-June, our family managed to lose two cars in two days (though a friend insists he knows of a case that one-ups that: two cars in one day!)
During the days that followed, helpful souls kept reminding us not to relax, that bad luck always comes in threes. At that point, and with at times numb, at times slightly hysterical incredulity on our part, we’d recount to them how that ship had sailed, how we were already on multiples of three. When the first car was lost, stolen from our yard in the dead of night, it contained 17 blankets generously donated by the community to the needy, not to mention my daughter’s driver’s license and ID. When, two days later, a reckless driver ran a red traffic light and crashed into our second car, my Debit card went missing in the chaos. We pretty much had bad luck sewn up.
In an effort to maintain some sanity during it all, I adopted my mom’s favourite refrain, which I find myself resorting to more and more as I get older: “Everything’s going to be fine”, together with her ancient wisdom which, in times of absolute chaos has, I must admit, seemed fairly skewed, that things could have been worse.
So when the car and blankets were stolen I comforted my kids with the fact that at least they didn’t come into the house and we heard nothing (in fact I’m ashamed to say I slept peacefully throughout what must have been a noisy ordeal, considering our driveway is currently made of rubble and our gate creaks like an ancient 10-tonne forklift). I also held on to the fact that the very next day, people rallied together and replaced all the stolen blankets, plus some. When the second car was crashed, I rightly concluded that at least no one was hurt; the speeding transgressor narrowly missed the passenger door where Katya’s friend had been sitting.
The ID, I convinced my daughter, contained a dreadful photograph of her and this was a great opportunity to replace it. A friend immediately helped us with the process of replacing the driver’s license, other friends immediately lent us cars, more reasons to thank the universe for our amazing luck, I insisted, smiling perhaps just a little too brightly.
A little while later, on a cold and rainy Saturday morning, I stepped on a door mat leaving a local store and ended up tobogganing out the door in spectacular fashion and landing in a rather undignified heap on the pavement, much to the surprise of passing shoppers, and ending, literally, in blinding pain (who knew your vision goes at times of extreme pain! Is that why I (thankfully!) don’t remember how childhood looked, only how it felt?) I reassured myself as I holed up for the rest of the weekend with a hot water bottle and a generous handful of Brufin, that at least I (instinctively?) “drifted” to the left as I landed or it would have been the base of my spine rather than my rather well-padded posterior that took the full force of the fall.
The next week the family terrier chased a tiny mouse into the house and it ran, terrified, into the back of the fridge where it promptly electrocuted itself. I had no choice but to pry its frazzled corpse off the fridge motor, and as I stood there, the remains of the said mouse in my gloved hand, horror on my face, my daughter smiled tiredly at me and said: “What’s the up-side of this one, mom?”
It got me thinking about this phrase we use so glibly, “bad luck”, what it means and how we should view it. There’s a story of a farmer’s son who was attempting to tame a herd of wild horses. He fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought what bad luck. The farmer’s reaction: good luck or bad luck, who knows?
Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with the broken leg, they let him off.
The moral of the story? We don’t know everything – hell, sometimes I wonder if we know anything – but we all have to face adversity and hardship in varying forms at one stage or another in our lives.
And that’s when we’re faced with two choices: we can either throw our hands up in the air and give up, or we can resort to my mom’s die-hard “It could have been worse.” Is it logical, intelligent, to convince ourselves, no matter how bad, that it could have been worse? Is there an element of denial in it? I don’t know, all I know is that I use it as my emotional Prozac, a bit like the balm I’m liberally applying to my torn muscles after my fall: the pain is still there, lurking beneath, but at least I’ve found a way to make it bearable and keep going.
7 steps to dealing with bad luck and adversity
Motivational speaker, Lolly Daskal, wrote this about how to become a better leader in the face of adversity, but I think it applies to all of us dealing with hard times.
Remain calm. Refuse to become agitated, even when things seem to be falling apart.
Trust your abilities. Believe that you have the ability to pull through…and the advantage of years of adversity? Practice makes perfect!
Take action. Don’t become paralysed by events that don’t turn out exactly as you envisaged. Make plans and take specific action to move forward.
Learn acceptance. Accept the idea that in chaos there is order, and that sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got, accept what happens, and move on.
Don’t compromise. Don’t compromise your integrity. When you put integrity first you know you can keep respect.
Stay agile. Respond to adversity and change by staying flexible. Change and adversity are inevitable, and if you’re too busy worrying about the past or are distracted by the present you’ll miss out on a great future.
Lead From Within: When everything seems to be bad luck– it may just be good luck in disguise— and when not everything has an answer, and not everything can be figured out, that’s when we find true contentment and resolve.