Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about love.
It’s a day of candy hearts, romantic dinners, and sentimental greeting cards.
Except when it’s not that.
This Valentine’s Day will mark 12 years since the “Five Weeks That Changed My Life.” My life just didn’t look the way I expected any more.
When I woke up on Wednesday, February 14, 2001, my husband, Richard, glared at me, yanked the covers off my side of the bed and yelled, “Get up already! We’ll be late for seeing Norm!”
Groggily, I replied “We see him on Thursdays,” as I tried to pull back the blankets that were keeping me warm and cozy.
“Dummy, don’t you remember? He’s going out of town this Thursday. He rescheduled with us.”
I had forgotten. I changed quickly out of my pajamas and into a pair of jeans and a bulky sweater, to stay warm on a chilly San Francisco morning. I grabbed a granola bar and a swig of orange juice before jumping into Richard’s Saab, as we sped to Norm’s psychotherapy offices. We barely spoke to each other, but I winced as Rich pounded his lead foot into the accelerator, and we flew through one yellow light after another.
Somewhere in the middle of our couple’s therapy session, I blurted out, “I want a divorce.” I was miserable in our marriage. A full year of counseling brought little relief. I was emotionally and physically exhausted from being berated by the man who was supposed to adore and cherish me.
Walking out of our Norm’s trendy office, Richard assaulted me with his sarcastic tone, “Thanks a lot for doing that on Valentine’s Day. Nice move.”
Despite always knowing the birthdays and anniversaries of everyone in his family, and being the one who hosted parties and sent cards for holidays, I honestly didn’t know it was Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t feeling at all amorous.
That night, Richard said, “I want you out of the house.” I didn’t argue. Three days later, on a Saturday, I moved a few boxes of belongings into a nearby temporary apartment, where I sorted out my new life.
Just two days after relocating, I was driving in downtown San Francisco when I got a call from my mother. She tried to mask the panic in her voice. My father was in the hospital, unconscious. He’d fallen backwards, and sustained a serious brain injury.
I raced home, feeling lost and bewildered. Where was home, anyway? I packed a bag and dashed to San Francisco Airport to catch a flight to Phoenix to be with my family. The whole flight home, I sobbed uncontrollably, caught in the grip of uncertainty. I didn’t know if my father would make it.
Fortunately, he did. What a blessing. But only after weeks in the hospital.
I flew back and forth between San Francisco and Phoenix twice in three weeks to support my parents. Each time I returned to San Francisco, I needed a surgery.
While recovering from the second surgery, my manager called. After leaving an ill-fitting career in management consulting, I’d been thrilled to be part of a hip dot-com startup that created dazzling online learning products. “Susan, this is my last official act as your manager,” Kathryn said, “We’ve become a dot-bomb. You’ve been laid off.” That was a Tuesday. I was supposed to count myself lucky for being paid through Friday.
In five short weeks, I’d left my husband, moved out of the house, seen my father through a traumatic injury, had two surgeries, and lost my job.
Life didn’t look the way I expected.
As each trauma arose, friends kept asking me, “Are you OK? How are you coping when your life is changing so much?”
Oddly, I felt free, as though some great power spoke to me, “Here, we’re wiping the slate clean. You have all the room in the world for new possibilities.”
People started to tell me, “Wow, that’s a great way to see things.” And over time, I came to an important realization:
Somewhere, deep down, I knew that I didn’t have total control over my life.
I’ve learned that I can only push for “my way” so much. At some point, when I encounter resistance – in other words, when things aren’t going the way I’d hoped they would — I surrender.
Surrender doesn’t mean giving up. It means saying, “OK. This is how things are now. What if life is exactly how as supposed to be? What if, instead of being upset, I bless my circumstances and look for the gift in them?”
And, my favorite, “What if I seek out the silver lining, instead of whining?” (click tweet this!)
One way of looking for the silver lining, the “good” in any situation, is to ask to be shown.
For me, I call on my “Higher Power,” which I sometimes refer to as “The Universe,” “Source,” or “God” to give me insights and guidance.
For example, last week, I was stumped about my business direction. For over year, I’ve been feeling like “career change” is too small an issue for me. I’ve been hungry to share my mind/body/spirit expertise. But I just haven’t “figured out” how to do that. Despite all my noodling, contemplating, journaling and visualizing, I just wasn’t getting any more clarity. I felt “stuck” and that’s not what I expected. Nor what I wanted.
So on a Sunday, I finally decided that I’d surrender to a power bigger than myself. I closed my eyes and asked for The Universe to send me guidance about my path. “I need strong signs, please. Not subtle ones.”
Something in my heart loosened up. I felt a warmth come over me, like being bundled in a big, cozy blanket.
I was having dinner two days later, on a Tuesday, with my friend, the brilliant speaker and writer, Simon T. Bailey. We always laugh and joke, and banter about the world. Towards the end of our meal, Simon asked me, “How can I be of service to you? What can I do to help you in your life?”
People don’t often ask me that. I took his question seriously.
“Simon, I feel drawn to tell you these four words, and get your sense of how I can use them. I want to do something in the corporate world, but I’m not really sure how to bring these four words together. “
“What are the words, Susan?”
“Calm. Clarity. Confidence. Connection.” I paused. “These are the gifts I bring people with my coaching, my speaking, my workshops.”
“Susan, I’m going to share a word with you. And I want you to own it.” Simon said, with an uncharacteristically serious yet heartfelt tone.
“I’m all ears,” I promised him.
“What you’re talking about is resilience. And the business world needs it. And you have the expertise to talk about it – with both your work experience and your MBA. And your perspective and training in somatic psychology. And your life experience, like those five weeks of transformation you’ve told me about.”
I nearly fell over. Yes!
The clarity I’d asked for had arrived — fast! Resilience. Yes. I’d been resilient. I’d studied resilience. I’d helped so many people through transitions, and showed them the skills for being resilient in the face of change.
It’s just that, until that moment, I didn’t know that “resilience” was my message. My mission. Helping people build the skills for resilience. Yes, yes, yes.
Resilience is especially important when your life doesn’t look the way you’d expected.
So if you’re really challenged – and maybe even angry or depressed that things aren’t going your way, ask some power greater than you – your Higher Power, Source, God, The Universe, or whatever you call it — for guidance and insights. That can be just the form of surrender you need. So that you see life with fresh eyes.
What will you ask for guidance on today, so you can be more resilient?