Life Challenges: What Led Me Here (Part I)
People have diverse philosophies and world views about life in general and its challenges, our destinies and our ability to change course along the way. Some views are based on religious traditions. It is not my intent to cover all the theories here, but rather to focus on the two thoughts about life that I’ve had that now lead me here to this place.
One set of beliefs about life is that we are a collection of our experiences in life. Who we are is largely a factor of our psychological development, both in childhood and as an adult. We can carry a lot of “baggage” with us that can either assist or hinder us in our current relationships and in our new experiences. This view often advocates that it’s healthy to talk about these past experiences to “move through” them and learn from the past. Traditional therapies typically use this approach.
Another view is that we chose these experiences: that everything that we have experienced in life, we signed up for. We chose it. This is a somewhat controversial view, as it doesn’t seem that people would choose to be sick, or to lose their jobs, or to have bad things happen to them. Law of attraction advocates would argue that we indeed did choose these things, by thinking about them. They claim that the more attention we put on those thoughts of worry, for example, the more we will get exactly what we are worrying about. Inherent in this approach is the notion that we don’t have to be defined by those experiences, as we can re-shape our lives deliberately, on purpose: by altering our thoughts and taking action in some way.
I have been a believer in both approaches. As a trained counselor and a woman (who believes in talking things through), I spent the majority of my adult life with the first approach. When my marriage was in trouble, I sought out marital counseling. I also talked about my struggles with friends and eventually with my parents. (I had not wanted to upset them earlier because my dad was dying of cancer.) I was, in fact, spending a whole lot of time thinking about my problems and worrying about what would happen. I became quite the expert in worrying! I would worry about all kinds of things that I had no control over. It certainly wasn’t healthy for me, but it took some difficult challenges and disruptions along the way before I realized these habits I had developed and practiced for so long needed to be changed.
Although I’ve had my share of traumatic experiences, the most dramatic twists and turns occurred about 8 years ago. I passed through some very difficult times. Within what I believe was a two-month period, I had my own cancer scare and had a breast biopsy done that was quite intrusive and very scary. The reason it was scary at the time is that I felt all alone. My marriage was falling apart, and my husband was acting desperately to convince me I was making a mistake, I had just gotten word that I was going to be laid off from my job and my dad’s cancer had returned and the prognosis was not good. I didn’t feel comfortable getting support from my husband at the time, and my mother had her hands full with my dad’s illness. So I went through the biopsy procedure alone.
One thing in life that I never had had a problem with before was my career. I had done quite well professionally, and it seemed as if the opportunities were always there for me, exactly when I needed them to be. So when I was told that I would be losing my job due to budget cuts, I was absolutely devastated. The timing couldn’t have been worse, I thought at the time. I was trying to get out of an unhappy, emotionally abusive marriage, while still raising two small children, with no money in savings and no job prospects in sight. The job market in my state was terrible at the time, and my field was so specialized that there was nothing in the area for me. I spent 9 months interviewing and would always come in second. I was over-qualified for jobs and the employers feared that I wouldn’t stay long, plus they probably thought my salary requirements would be too high. (I was willing and able to accept the lowest of salaries because I was desperate to support my kids.)
During this time, I was also working on a Ph.D. I was at the dissertation stage and had already been approved for extensions on the time. For those that are not familiar with the process, normally universities will give you a specified time in which to complete your dissertation. If you don’t complete it, you often have to take more coursework and re-take the oral examinations. In my case, I had a baby during my doctoral coursework, had been working full-time, raising two children and managed to complete it all but the dissertation. (This is called ABD.) I had chosen a qualitative research design for my dissertation research topic, which meant that I had to interview human subjects, and lots of them. This takes a lot of time.
So when I was laid off, I saw this as an opportunity to finish my interviews and collect my data. I actually was able to travel to the communities around the state to conduct and finish my interviews, but ended up putting the dissertation “on the shelf” again where it collected a lot of dust for a few more years because my biggest life challenge showed up. I never thought I’d be in the position I’d be in, nor would I be able to make the decisions I was about to make.
(To Be Continued in Part II)…