How to move from “why me” to “what for” in business and in life
We’ve all had a few “defining moments” in our lives where something happened, or didn’t happen, that altered the course of our lives forever. Some defining moments are absolutely fabulous!
Crossing paths with a stranger that becomes a lifelong friend. Meeting the love of your life when you least expect it. Having someone tell you that they believe in you and because of that, you believed in yourself and went on to do extraordinary things that were so highly unlikely they bordered on impossible.
These moments leave us inspired, empowered, and confident of our future path. Yes, these are the moments we love and that define us in immeasurable ways.
Then there’s the other, less-invited kind of defining moment that blindsides us when we least expect it. They throw us off course and cause us to seriously question our direction and purpose in life. They happen when we’re busy making other plans. Illness. Divorce.
Starting a business and being so financially stretched that finding a few pennies makes you feel rich. Freak accident where bones are crushed and dreams are shattered.
I know defining moments happen in all of our lives, because all of these moments have happened to me. As a woman navigating through life for over forty-five years, and as an entrepreneur of more than twenty years, I’d like to share with you three simple strategies that have helped me to maneuver through some of the more challenging moments in my life. I’ve learned that it’s imperative to intentionally create meaning from those crucial moments that so easily could have defined me.
Find a bigger problem than your own personal problems or your own bottom line.
One year ago, I broke my foot. I was mid-step when a 200-pound box fell on the back of my right lower leg, hitting my calf muscle and raised heel, crushing my foot into the ground, shattering the first metatarsal joint above the arch of my foot – the most important joint for walking and running – along with severely damaging the big toe joint and spraining the toe. It was one of those freak accidents you hope never happens to you. One moment I was standing there with huge aspirations of running forever, or at least until my mid nineties, and the next moment I found myself crawling out from under the box. The pain in my foot was nauseating, but the fear of not being able to run was even more excruciating.
I am a runner. A long-distance runner. For thirty years, moving physically has been an integral part of almost every day simply because it brings me joy. I also use this gift to raise funds, a lot of funds for charity. I had several future races planned before the accident and was about to sign up for my next one. The possibility of never being to run again or to be immobile for even a short period of time caused more anxiety than I could fathom.
The break was bad, and the prognosis was bleak. ER. X-rays. CT scans. A meeting with the surgeon who advised me to take a leave from work for six months and dismissed my response when I tried to explain that I was self-employed and needed to work. Surgery took place a week later, and the throbbing pain in my foot continued to gnaw away at my usual good mood. Metal staples. Crutches. A knee scooter for months. As my doctor took the staples out, she read the surgeon’s report and said, “You will walk with a limp and never run again. You’re just going to have to deal with it and accept your new reality.” With that, she removed the last staple and walked out.
I remained in her tiny office, crying, a hysterical mess. The stress of her words caused half of my hair to fall out, and I fell into a dark despair for those first few months. Reality was grim. No driving or walking for three to four months. No running! How will I survive, I wondered. The indefinite and irreparable damage was evident, not just to my foot but to my spirit. Months of rehab ensued, with thousands of dollars spent in a desperate attempt to hold on to my dream of running long distances once again. I tried everything: physiotherapy, acupuncture, shock wave therapy, reflexology, massage, hypnotherapy, alternative healing modalities, herbal poultices and countless other remedies. I cried myself to sleep for days that turned into weeks which turned into months. I was devastated, not just because my foot was broken but because running was my life, and my life as I knew it was over!
Time passed. Months passed. A year passed. And as much as I thought I would, I didn’t die.
Time may never completely heal physical or emotional injuries, but what it provided me with was a space to begin to create a “bigger problem” than my own personal dilemma. The passing of time can do that for all of us. It can allow an opportunity for us to pause and then create something new, different, and possibly even better than we originally had planned. It sounds so cliché but we can create a new trajectory of our lives, even more magnificent than the one we were on, by simply asking ourselves “What can I learn from this?” In doing so, we move from dwelling on and magnifying our own problems (why me?) to a place of meaning and purpose (what for?).
It took time, patience, and a lot of cursing, but two things helped me navigate the reality of my broken foot and broken spirit, moving through one of the greatest valleys of my life to a time of tremendous growth and inspiration. I hope these ideas will help you, too.
Do something of value with your time
I don’t believe that things happen for a “reason.” I believe that when unfortunate things happen in our lives, we can intentionally create meaning from those moments and, in doing so, force ourselves from a state of suffering to a place where we are learning something new, doing something differently, and becoming incredibly resilient in the process. After the initial shock of breaking my foot and mourning over the loss, I thought about my career as a social entrepreneur and professional speaker. I stopped asking “Why me?” and started asking “What for?”
With the added time I had available since I could not run or even walk, I found a bigger problem or purpose than dwelling on my brokenness and expanded my creative talents, something that I never previously had time for. To be honest, I couldn’t stand suffering any longer and needed to find a way to feel better. I finished a book I’d been working on for the past four years and developed new ideas as well, some of which would never have come to fruition if I had not broken my foot. This is tough to admit, but I realized that if running was my life, as I have said to myself and others countless times, then perhaps I should get a life. There is so much more to life than running; I was just not aware of it. Defining myself as a runner, or in any particular manner, is an excellent way to generate a LOT of pain. When we define ourselves by something, we’re essentially telling ourselves that we’re incomplete without it. However, this is totally false. We are entirely whole and complete in every way, regardless of how far we can run, if we can run at all.
Get up! Do something. Take action and stop feeling sorry for yourself.
This may sound blunt, but it is reality. Stay in that place of mourning as long as you need to but not a moment longer. Eventually, we’ve got to get up!
Years ago, I was talking to my mom and crying the blues about something and she said, “If you are the only one attending your little pity party, you should leave.” At the six month point after surgery, I took her advice and got up off the couch. I dug my sneakers out of the closet, went outside, and began to slowly put one foot in front of the other. In the past, if it was less than a ten kilometre run, I would not even bother lacing up my sneakers. Now I could not run at all, and my foot constantly throbbed in pain. However, the simple act of getting out in nature, limping along, and trying to run a tiny bit was a giant leap forward in my healing.
Everything changed in that moment. I had been saying to myself that I wanted to feel better, but I just stayed on the couch and wallowed in my own misery. Expecting things to get better when I stayed the same didn’t work. Nothing changed until I got up off the couch, stopped feeling sorry for myself, and took action.
In businesses, it’s the same thing. We must find a bigger problem than our own bottom line. Find a bigger purpose for your company than simply making money. Find a cause to support, something that everyone at work, even if it’s only you and your customers, can get passionate about. Whether your passions are directly related to your business or not doesn’t matter; when we find a bigger problem than our own bottom line, the excitement and inspiration we experience on a daily basis is contagious. Soon, others will jump on board and, remarkably, your business will profit. If you don’t believe me, try it! Success is on the other side of service. Focusing on making a difference rather than simply making money is the key.
I know firsthand the influence of finding a bigger problem than my own bottom line. In all of my businesses, I’ve always divided my earnings in three categories: saving, spending, and sharing. I first heard this more than twenty years ago when I started my first business: an international travellers hostel. I had an audio cassette of Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker, and he said we must always reserve a portion of our earnings for charitable giving. And that’s what I did. In my first year of business, I was so financially stretched as monthly mortgage payments on that property were in excess of $3000 per month, interest only. Christmas was coming and I had no money to buy big gifts for my staff. So, together we created a bigger problem – a bigger purpose – than ourselves. We scraped together about $100, called a local charity, and sponsored a family in need. With the money, my staff and I went out and bought toys and gifts for the family and wrapped them in newspaper and string. Then we took the items to the family, pretending to be delivery people. The joy and gratefulness they showed was the greatest Christmas gift I had ever received.
That was twenty years ago and every year, by helping others, I believe the Universe responds in kind. The mortgage on the hostel has long been repaid and I’m extremely grateful for the wealth I’ve received from the business and for the difference we’ve made in the world through the idea of saving, spending, and sharing. Charitable giving is a part of every speech, retreat, or workshop I offer. I will continue to focus on charitable giving as a bigger purpose for my businesses and life, not for what I get out of it, but for who I become in the process.
Make the journey
At times in my life I have experienced agonizing self-doubt, insecurity, and overwhelming feelings of not being enough. These feelings of insignificance have given rise to certain ways of being that have actually helped me and propelled me forward in my life and business. For example, since I was very young I’ve been extremely independent. For as long as I can remember, I’ve also held a view that I can do anything I put my mind to through hard work. And I’ve always felt that life should be fair. These three ways of being have impacted my life in extraordinary ways! I’ve accomplished a lot, both personally and professionally, through the strength of these brilliant aspects of myself. However, left on autopilot in my subconscious, these three little devils can and do wreak havoc in my life in countless ways.
When an incident arises, like breaking my foot, it triggers all of my ways of being—of coping. Breaking my foot took away my independence for months. It showed me that I just might not be able to do anything I wanted through work ethic, grit, and determination, and it certainly ruined my ideal that life should be fair. It’s easy to see why I was such a mess emotionally. I just could not make sense of it all through the filters that I had created to maneuver in life, and this only served to magnify my insecurity and self-doubt. The accident forced me to my knees and made me look at myself. Through that experience, I realized that there could be a better way.
There is a better way. It’s a journey of knowing ourselves deeply, noticing when we are triggered, and choosing to breathe more space between that stimulus and our response. The better way is choosing to be vulnerable, to unabashedly allow our true selves to be seen, to create a gentle opening of the heart and mind, and to commit to the lifelong process of discovering and creating our best selves. It’s a process of choosing compassion, authenticity, and love! This is so much easier said than done, but the journey of remembering who we are and knowing ourselves deeply will give rise to incredible abundance on every level.
Take a moment to be still and quiet. Think of your own ways of being. Who do you show up as in life? How do you interact with the world around you? Are you often defensive? Take things too personally? Overreact? What parts of you do you want the world to see, and what parts of you do you hide from those around you? What triggers you? Who do you become when you get triggered? See if you can clearly articulate and define your ways of being and gain clarity on how amazing those aspects of you are, while also being sabotaging little monsters at the same time. Simply becoming aware of the times when we are on autopilot will provide the space between stimulus and how we may choose to respond in a given situation.
As we strive to become our brilliant and best selves, we begin living our lives with intention rather than by default. As a result, our businesses will thrive, our staff will be happier, and our clients will be more motivated to work with us. Working harder on ourselves than on anything else will pay dividends in the long run.
Know your gifts, talents and ultimate purpose
It is our purpose in life to discover our unique gifts and talents and share them with the world. That is why we are here. Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” The day you find out why, your life will change – and so will the world!
Think about your gifts – not just what you are good at, but what energizes you to wake up early and go to bed late! Think of your passions, hobbies, business, and what inspires you. Think of what you are doing when time flies by so quickly that you lose track of it. Somewhere hidden there are your gifts – your innate gifts – and your reason for being here. Share them. The world needs you and what you have to offer, now more than ever.
It is essential that you know exactly what your gifts and talents are. If you are unclear on what your specific gifts and talents are, please contact me. I will send you an exercise via email that will bring clarity and focus for you on exactly why you are here, what your purpose is, and what you excel at.
When life goes completely and utterly sideways, and it invariably will now and then, it’s okay to briefly surrender to what the current state of things may be and to wallow in that. Surrendering is not about giving in or giving up, though. It is about acknowledging what is and moving beyond the suffering of wishing things could be different, of feeling like a victim, to a place of empowerment. To me, surrendering means to become sure of the end – to get a clear picture of the outcome you most desire, and then to surrender to that outcome and take action. As we surrender to whatever is happening in our lives, we begin to move from “why me” to “what for” in the direction of our most desired outcome.
We get closer to the “what for” side of things as we create new meaning, new discoveries, and new depths within our character as a result of going through and growing through whatever has taken place. As we create a bigger problem and as we make the journey from our heads to our hearts, sharing our innate gifts and talents, we will not only make more money, we will find everything we’re seeking in life.
There are a few action steps that I’ve embarked upon that have made a world of difference in my life, and I am certain they will do the same for you.
- Take the 90-Day Challenge. Pick two goals, large or small. Define them clearly. Set a start date and commit for ninety days. Every day, spend fifteen minutes completing three small steps towards those goals. Keep a journal to track your progress. The three action steps taken daily need only require a maximum of five minutes each to complete. Everyone has fifteen minutes they can find in a day, especially if you pick two goals that you are passionate about and not merely interested in.
- Make your health a priority. Create a health goal as one of your goals in the 90-Day Challenge. Do something every day towards improving your health; you know what areas of your life need some attention. Spend a few minutes each day focusing on your health. You’ll feel better, have more energy, and accomplish so much more as a result.
- Create a morning routine. Again, this requires only fifteen minutes to one hour each morning to complete. Spend this time intentionally upon rising each day—meditate, grab a strong cup of coffee and set your intentions for the day, spend quality time with your partner and/or children in meaningful conversation, read, write, journal, exercise, write in a gratitude journal, connect with your spirituality, write a thank you card every morning for a year, and more. Commit to this routine for a month and watch your life change.
Moving from dwelling on my problems to finding a place of purpose took a long time for me. I suffered in the place of “Why me?” for months before being able to even consider the notion of “What for?” Do I wish the accident never happened? Absolutely! But would I want to give up all the incredible results that the accident generated: the personal growth, the wisdom gained, and who I’ve become through the past year? I don’t think so. While the accident wreaked havoc in my life, it was also the catalyst in completing several projects.
My work as a social entrepreneur, consultant, and speaker has been elevated as a result of the accident in many ways, not to mention the greater depth of my compassion and character. Organizations and companies hire me to work with their teams to become more productive, more inspired, and happier on a daily basis. As a result of the accident, I know I can serve them better than I ever had before.
My wish for everyone is that when things happen in our lives that take us completely off the road we had planned, may we find the courage, the grace, and the vulnerability to surrender to what is, to intentionally choose how we respond in any given situation, to love ourselves in all our perfect imperfections, and to move from “Why me?” to “What for?” With this, we can use our gifts and talents to influence and change the world simply by showing up authentically, taking action, and bravely putting one foot in front of the other!