Rough patches don’t last forever

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A little distance might help you view your problems in a new light.
Credit: Goodshoot

The question:
“I’ve been searching for a job for 5 months now and I’m getting discouraged. I’ve done all the right things – networking, consulting a career counselor, etc. – and still nothing has worked out. Friends tell me I shouldn’t stress- I’m young and it’s just a matter of time. But I’m seriously beginning to worry. How do I hold on to hope when nothing seems to be panning out?”

Every life is an unfolding story with bright spots, low points, and plot twists. When people lose hope, it is usually because they mistake one or more difficult chapters in their lives for the entire plotline, and overlook important life lessons that such chapters have to offer.
Take the 2006 Blockbuster, “The Pursuit of Happyness.” The true rags-to-riches film chronicles exactly 28 chapters in the life of Chris Gardener, a suddenly single father who battles homelessness and ridiculous odds to earn a coveted entry-level position at a major San Francisco brokerage firm. The genius of this film is that 27 of the chapters, wrapped into gritty little headings like “Locked Out,” “Being Stupid,” and “Riding the Bus,” are about the “Pursuit” part of the equation. Only the last chapter, as the narrator points out, is entitled “Happiness.”
If Mr. Gardener had gotten stuck in one of these chapters, misinterpreting his temporary difficulties as a never-ending story of struggle and victimization, he may have failed to muster the courage and resilience to succeed. Consequently, the film might have been called “Giving Up,” and its message about the triumph of the human spirit over adversity would have been lost.
Of course, it’s so much easier to accept the meaning of difficult chapters and heart-wrenching scenes when it’s happening to someone else, and we’re virtually assured of a positive outcome (after all, the film’s title suggests a Hollywood happy ending).
But what if you could see your life as a major motion picture? Imagine that you’re the main character and the plotline is about “a talented young professional battling unemployment.” Ask yourself, “What is this chapter about?” Give it a name, and see if you can write a paragraph summary in the third person voice, as if you were a movie critic giving a positive review. While this may seem counterintuitive, psychological studies show that people are more likely to view their lives favorably at a distance, than up close.
Conflicts in novels and films shape the plot and move the story forward, presenting the main character with opportunities to overcome inner obstacles, potentially leading to epiphanies, life lessons, and psychological rebirth. After writing the summary, ask yourself, “What life lessons can this character learn from this time? Who are his supporting characters and how can they help him? What tools does he need to move to the next chapter? Where has he found hope in the past and how might he find it now?”
Times are tough, and crystal balls break. But once you have identified the chapters and deciphered its meaning, you may find it easier to weave the fragments of your life into a meaningful narrative that values the subtle, often unrecognized personal victories that build character – facing a fear, changing an attitude, or building endurance. This new awareness can help you write new scripts for old stories while embracing life’s inevitable trials and tribulations as purposeful experiences that won’t last forever.


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