4 Harsh Life Lessons and What They Taught Me About Living Well

“Life has no limitations, except the ones you make.” — Les Brown

There are hard lessons life teaches us and only you can determine the outcome. If you are like me, you want everything to be gentle and perfect, but things happen. We are in a world full of people who make choices alongside our own. Some events unfold that we cannot foresee.

Following are some uncomfortable truths life teaches us and how they can be leveraged to foster growth and the freedom to live well.

  1. Life is not fair.

Life is never fair! Someone else gets a promotion before you, even though you worked for years, proving yourself time and again. A crazy maniac cuts you off in traffic and you scream obscenities even though he can’t hear you and he wouldn’t care if he could.

When I was a child, I thought if I was good enough or didn’t draw attention to myself, people would be nice to me. This was not the case. My mother brought boyfriends home who hurt us. When it got dangerous, my older sister hid me in the closet, covered me with clothes, and told me to be quiet so he couldn’t find me. This made the man angry so he beat her until she bled. We were taken from our mother and placed in a foster home. No matter how much I wanted life to be fair, it wasn’t.

That does not mean I had to live in darkness. Despite its tendency to be unpredictable, life has the potential to be powerfully beautiful and good.

“The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence; the past is a place of learning, not a place of living.” — Roy T. Bennett

Two ways you can take charge of your life and create the future you deserve include:

  • Be mindful of your choices. We all fail. Life would be a miserable mess if everything was perfect. If you made poor choices in the past, then make meaningful ones going forward. Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself back where you started. Choose to learn from your mistakes and never stop loving life. It is much better to live mindfully with joy than to allow the past to haunt your every step.
  • Check your attitude. How you interpret situations or outcomes will either hold you back or propel you forward. Are you going to let your current issue be a living hell, or will you accept the lesson in it and grow despite the pain or discouragement it might cause? Perception is key to being able to live your best life, regardless of things you cannot control.

2. There will be people who don’t like you.

It would be so nice if people could look inside your head and know who you are, see your intentions, and love you for the person you know you are. It’s so discouraging when people misinterpret your actions or do not hear the words you speak. People will hear what they want to hear. All you can do is be the person you are and don’t worry about what others think.

That is easier said than done. I struggle with worrying about what others think of me constantly. I want to make everyone happy and I want them to understand where I am coming from.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.” — Steve Jobs

Trying to get everyone to like you leads to a downward spiral of seeking to please everyone. This will exhaust you and keep you from living your best life. Be who you are, enjoy the life you live, and don’t spend your energy trying to make everyone happy or letting others live your life for you.

3. Although empathy is a superpower, some people think it’s a weakness.

Empathy is a rare treasure and some people will exploit it if you allow them to. It is good to care, but it can become a serious drain on your emotional well-being if you don’t create healthy boundaries.

Throughout my life, I have been told I trust too much and allow people to walk all over me. I don’t want to lose that compassion I have for others. Sometimes people have taken too much, but I would not change who I am. However, I can choose to be a doormat or leverage that emotional intelligence to help others within reasonable limits.

“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.” — Carl Rogers

Never stop caring for others. Be willing to step into their shoes and walk a mile or two in them. Be true to yourself, though. If you open your heart, don’t pour out every part of you so there is nothing left. Healthy boundaries mean:

  • You permit yourself to say no when it moves beyond compassion to exploitation.
  • You allow yourself to cry, but once done, you pick yourself up, and move forward with confidence. Sometimes caring and seeing what others see can make you feel like there is something wrong with you. It is wonderful to have compassion, but don’t lose yourself in the giving.
  • You are kind to yourself.

4. Wanting something to be true does not mean it is.

In a perfect world, everyone would see how words can hurt each other, how war destroys life, and how fairness should be extended to everyone because no one is more important or deserving than another.

I always thought that everyone felt the same way I did. At work, I would have a vision of people caring for one another and working for the same goals, but that was unrealistic. I might think teamwork was the greatest goal while a coworker would be much more focused on getting her numbers no matter what the cost. With those I care about, I tried way too hard to respect the property and to be fair in everything I do. This is not always reciprocated the way I have in mind.

“Life is not always what you expect. But life never happens by accident.” — Helen Downing

It is good to be optimistic and respect others. It is even better to understand what you think may not be the ultimate truth for everyone. There are times when your thoughts may be wrong, but if you are not willing to see this, change will never happen. This does not mean you need to be ready to let go of what you believe, rather be open to the possibility there may be a better way to see it. When it comes to unfairness, be an impetus for change. Step out, speak up, and work for the vision you hold.

Final Thoughts

Life will never be perfect. Great value can be found in always being willing to learn and grow throughout this adventure.

When I was 19, I spent a summer as a horse wrangler at a Christian camp. I loved horses and I was so excited. I was also very “green”. When I started, I watched others halter the horses, attach a lead and tie it to the fence. Timidly, I approached the easiest horse, holding the halter out with shaking hands, and asked the horse if I could put it on. The horse would turn away and I would have to corner the horse and slip the halter over its head. At the start, I was lucky to harness two or three horses while the other two wranglers had at least 10 each and were already saddling theirs. By the end of the summer, I could whip my arm over the top of the horse’s neck, pull on the halter, attach the lead, tie it to the fence and have the horse saddled as quickly as everyone else. I had the confidence needed to do the job.

That is the way it is with life. Be ready to take charge of it and forge your own path. It may not be what you expected, but only you can make it as glorious, spectacular, or beautiful as you desire.

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