Some people are world transformers. We choose to go headlong into the breach, to try something, to build something, to create something that didn’t exist before. People are not born risk-takers or leaders, or innovators, or founders. We acquire the ambition, the skills, the experience and the know-how along the way, often at difficult cost. Even if it’s a small thing, a side-gig, a project, putting your time, your name into something requires a measure of courage.
Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If” has become a favorite of mine over the years. It’s a poem about growth, and what it means to be “a man” — or as I, a woman consider it, about being a fully realized transformer of the world.
One line in it, in particular, speaks to me:
Triumph and Disaster As Twins
Post-Traumatic Stress vice Post Traumatic Growth
At the peak of one of my first, serious innovative coup, my husband died. It was inexplicable, a healthy man of 45 dead of cancer, a mere 24 hours after his diagnosis. It was shocking and combined as it was with the unexpected death of my mother, a few months before, personally very devastating. My beloved was gone. My life partner — disappeared — as if he’d been hit by truck or kidnapped by aliens. The hole in my life nearly sucked me all the way in.
I discovered the anger and pain, shock and anxiety that is collectively referred to as “widow anger.” It is a crucible of pain and fury that pours out of a widow, spills out defiantly with an energy that is difficult to manage. I became the queen of the F-bomb. The pain and trauma were more than I had experienced even when I was forced to change careers by equally difficult circumstances.
I had to overcome it. I had to master it. I had a young son and a college freshman daughter — miles to go in parenting and in career. It was that scene out of Mulan, where she learns to use those two disks to drag herself to the top of the pillar. I could see the pain and anger as weights — holding me down and back– or I could use them to push me forward and higher. It was, very simply, the dark night of the soul.
Trauma like these changes us. But we get a vote. We can choose to make our pain define us, or we can toss the victim card and move ahead. This was the toughest road I have ever walked.
I was along the road by Martin E. Seligman’s work on positive psychology. I especially like this book, Flourish, where he discusses post-traumatic growth as a way to get beyond helplessness–to fight back against the bitterness, anxiety and confusion of traumas–and how that leads us re-tell our stories to ourselves in ways that can build us up.
Disasters Are a Step Back. They give us room to leap forward.
Many a female founder (especially those over forty) have experienced these collapses. The ones that occur in the wake of triumphs are especially hard to take in. Just when we have things figured out, just when we are beginning to make serious progress, something goes sideways. It’s important to remember that its all part of a process.
You might be a world transformer, if you’re experiencing significant life collapse — and you refuse to go down with the ship. If you get up every freakin’ day and give it what you can, with the kind of grit that Angela Duckworth is talking about — then you very well might change things not just for yourself–but for everyone. Duckworth cites “passion and perserverance” as the key components of success — in any field and in any undertaking. From my personal experience, I can say that bringing up others around me, working collaborative, expansively, has made all the difference.
Life collapse comes in many ways. It is a challenge to survive, spiritually and emotionally. It can even threaten our health. Life collapse occurs when our old ways of doing things, our ways of being, thinking, and living are no longer available to us. Our former supports disappear. Friendships are changed forever–even lost–because our friends no longer even recognize us. We can’t give them whatever it is they wanted from us before. It is the dark time. But it will pass more quickly if we can get up and move forward. We will be changed. That’s why its like the wave tops–the sea pulls back from the shore in order to rise higher. Strength will come. (And if this is you, right now, I’m sorry you’re in pain. Pain seems often accompany real growth–and this is why I have issues with God. Growth can be so very hard. )
The last stanza of If goes like this:
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More soon ~ Thanks for dropping by ~ Lola.