I met Sandrine a year after she had been injured in a terrible car accident; she had spent months in the hospital, and still had very limited use of her arm. “You can’t sit around waiting,” she announced, “You have to get back to life.” Today she is stronger than ever and training for a bicycle race in Paris.
On the other hand, Shelley is still coping with the death of her 32-year-old son 18 months ago. Though dark times still overcome her without warning, today she is starting to be creative again: “Whether I’m planning a dinner party or helping a friend with a business idea, these little creative moments take me out of the darkness.”
The weights of life
It was Nietzsche who said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” And, while we might prefer to opt out of life’s muscle-building classes, it is there where our lives are transformed. The weights of life can come as accidents, as circumstances we can’t change, or as character traits we’d rather be rid of. But all life’s liabilities can offer us hidden assets, if we dig deep enough to find them.
Viewing our liabilities in life with compassion and care can transform them into assets instantaneously. Like two sides of the same coin, your greatest personal strengths are often the flip side of your greatest weaknesses. The regular practice of flipping this coin can transform your life forever.
Revealing hidden assets
Your best traits can offer insights into your struggles, and your struggles can reveal positive characteristics as well. To reveal your hidden assets, first make a list of five negative characteristics about yourself. Here are some questions to get you started:
- Think of the person you are closest to. What bugs you the most about that person (remembering that partners and friends often reflect your own negative traits)?
- Think of a situation where you were embarrassed by your reaction or behavior. How did you feel?
- Think of the last time someone criticized you. What negative characteristic did they accuse you of having?
Now, for each of your five negative traits, think of at least one positive trait that mirrors the negative. Just being aware of what’s on the other side when you confront the negative in yourself empowers you with positive alternatives to draw on. For example, your attention to detail might sometimes bog you down or cause you to miss deadlines, but it could also make every corner of your home a delight to behold.
Just as there are two sides to every character trait, there are flip sides to every situation. The sides we choose determine whether we win or lose at the game of life. The things that disturb us most also show us what we care about. The metaphor of the coin reminds us to look for what is on the other side. For example:
- Losing your job might make you feel financially insecure; it can also push you to attempt what you’ve always wanted to do but were too afraid to try.
- An unexpected injury or illness can make you feel vulnerable; it can also move you to adopt a more sustainable way of living.
- A change in your partner’s work might take him or her away for months at a time; it can also make you more loving and present in each moment you have together.
When bad things happen we have the opportunity to see the stuff we are made of. The recovery process is not unlike the discipline of archaeology fieldwork. There are times for stepping back and paying attention, and other times for digging in and digging out.