There were so many mornings in 2008 when I struggled to merely get out of bed. I felt lost and hopeless. My life felt like a scene straight out of The Twilight Zone. All was unfamiliar. I had no idea of how to navigate my way out of the mess my life had become.
Like many Americans during that time, I was trying to recover from the 2007 financial crash and the housing collapse that ensued years after. I was fortunate enough to keep my job at Disney as a technology professional, but I was financially bruised. Nearly half of my net worth evaporated in a flash. I had taken a liking to real estate years before, but the rental property investments I was relying on as my ticket to early retirement were upside-down in value. My 401k retirement took a shellacking. My small business restaurant investment was not immune to the forces of turmoil knocking down small businesses around the country, and I was forced to dissolve and close the startup restaurant franchise after only a year and a half of operation. To make matters worse, I was being personally sued for breaching the real estate and equipment leases from the restaurant franchise I was forced to close. I felt that my world was crumbling before my eyes. One lawsuit led to another, and before I knew it, I was contemplating the idea of financial bankruptcy. Everything was falling like a house of cards.
I tried to find creative ways to avoid the embarrassment of bankruptcy, like trying to tap into the equity in my home, but the value of my house was too upside-down to create a financial miracle. I had no more rabbits in my magic hat left so I braced myself with the reality of Chapter 7 bankruptcy and losing my home due to foreclosure. I couldn’t believe I was in that position after how hard I had worked in life, all the risks I had taken, and all my precise calculations and strategies. It felt as if none of it mattered—my life was imploding. A decade and a half before, I had moved from the Caribbean to the United States for college. I had become enticed by the American dream and had set out to become a millionaire by the time I was forty years old. That dream blew up in my face practically overnight.
On an internal level, things were even worse. I was struggling badly—struggling to come to terms with the shame of bankruptcy and the pain of rebuilding, struggling with self-worth, identity, and depression. I was normally very thick-skinned when it came to life. But with my pride and my ego in shambles, I was frantic, reactive, and some days completely lethargic. All of this was unknown emotional territory for me. An intense phase of questioning fell upon my life. Everything that I had ever believed or prioritized or followed was put on trial.
Had I misunderstood my purpose in life?
It’s true that sometimes horrible things just happen in life and that there is nothing that can be done to prevent them—but I had a feeling that this had more to do with the house of cards I had built. Perhaps, this particular hardship in my life was exposing something that I was not ready for. Sometimes when your pride and ego are stripped away, all you’re left with is yourself. I didn’t know who I was, what I was supposed to do, or why exactly I was on this earth to begin with—but I was about to find out.
Your struggle is your signal for change and your opportunity for growth.
Everyone at some point in his or her life has experienced some type of struggle. Some of you might be going through a struggle in your life even as you are reading this book. Whether it is a struggle with low self-esteem, rejection/abandonment, family, domestic violence, abuse, a broken relationship, depression, disappointment, anxiety, illness, mental health, guilt, shame, grief, financial hardship, substance addiction, confusion, loneliness, or anything else, all of these feelings and impacts from your struggle most likely altered your life in some way, shape, or form. Regardless of the nature of your difficulty, your struggle almost certainly exposed you to an array of emotions that were perhaps unfamiliar to you, like anger, frustration, sadness, remorse, grief, or apathy. It can be overwhelming to experience such a wide range of emotions at the various stages of your experience.
For some of you, maybe those emotions metastasized over time into deep feelings of despair and brought you to a dark and lonely place of hopelessness. Maybe you became spiritually and emotionally paralyzed to take any kind of corrective action. Maybe you lost confidence in yourself and your abilities to make good decisions. Maybe you stopped believing. Maybe the little hope that you were sometimes able to drum up would be quickly extinguished once reality set in once more. Life is filled with hardships that challenge us to the very core. When it feels as if our worlds are breaking down, most of us either lose ourselves or find ourselves.
This dark place of hopelessness ultimately led me to question everything that revolved around my purpose. The financial crash simply served as a catalyst, throwing me more deeply into the plot, where I was forced to confront an array of different struggles I had long avoided. In fact, I probably masked my different struggles with my finances—with the American dream. I had been exposed. Life seems to work that way, doesn’t it? External struggles seem to hide a plethora of internal struggles. With the collapse of my finances and, frankly, my ambition, a number of internal struggles rose to the surface. Not only was I reeling from the wounds from my financial struggles, but I also had ongoing struggles with:
• Faith: My inability to surrender, let go, and put my trust in something that was bigger than myself. I liked being in control of my life. I grew up in a Christian home, but like many modern-day Christians I grew to know, I selectively chose the principles and teachings that were convenient to me and rejected the ones that threatened the pleasures and aspirations of my secular lifestyle. In my confusion, I was hesitant to fully open myself to God or spirituality because of the fear of having to give up my personal aspirations and dreams. I was in a tug-of-war with controlling my life and giving control to something that felt like a spiritual calling and its prescription for my life.
• Romance: My inability to commit, to believe in lifelong love, and put my trust in someone else. Similar to faith, I always felt I had things under control on my own and struggled to open myself up to a life with someone else.
• Work: My going-through-the-motions, my dependency on a paycheck, and my questioning about whether or not I was in the right place. I had my dream job at Disney, but something within me that I could not explain yearned for more. I was yearning for significance that was bigger than a title and a paycheck. I got trapped looking for meaning in the workplace. I enjoyed working on projects to help make Disney’s guests happy, but as years went by, I found myself losing the happiness deep inside. I was in desperate need of purpose in the workplace. When you are blindsided by life or when your struggle resurfaces, know that as suffocating as it might sometimes feel, your struggle is also your gateway to truth. Your struggle is the light illuminating the path in front of you, telling you where you need to go, even if it’s just one step at a time. There’s no need to run away from your struggles anymore, no need to suppress them, no need to victimize yourself. Curiously follow the path of healing without judging yourself, and see where the path takes you. As you follow the only path ahead of you, you’ll find that spaces within you start to open up as never before. You’ll find that your struggle, in fact, is your signal for change and your opportunity for growth.
I didn’t realize it whenever I felt as if I were drowning, but my struggles were putting me on a beautiful, painful collision course with self-discovery, God, and my pursuit for purpose, true meaning, and significance.
Your struggle is unique to you.
In my own life the financial crash left me alone with my ghosts, uncertainties, and questions. I realized that I didn’t know what I believed about God. I realized that when it came to my job at Disney I was perhaps working there for all the wrong reasons. I also realized that I had no idea of what a healthy long-term romantic relationship looked like. Faith, work, and romance—major tenets of life—happened to be my three major struggles in life—and I had no idea what I believed about any of them. I wondered if exploring my own deepest struggles held the key to unlocking meaning and purpose in life. Because of the financial crash, money could no longer hide my insecurities.
No one person’s struggle is the same. Circumstances may be similar, but the experiences and impacts are unique and relative to that person. Each person you come across is likely struggling or wrestling with something. Before judging someone, consider the uniqueness of his or her struggle and how it is deeply personal to the person. Never downplay or minimize someone else’s struggle. Each person must pick up his or her own cross, whatever that cross is, and dare to keep living and loving. Your struggle is an invitation to self-exploration and to the world around you.
It’s easy to feel alone in times of pain and difficulty. But just know that your unique struggle is what you get to use for both your own personal growth and for helping others in the future. That may be tough to see right now, but trust me. There may be no way to explain why you are going through what you are going through, but your struggle is unique to you, and your scars can one day be used to help others.
Your struggle is your calling for help.
It was during that tumultuous time in my life that I realized I could no longer ignore the signals for change. The conflict inside brought me to a place of despair to the point where I felt hopeless. Bigger yet, I lost all reason for hope. I had always been confident and ambitious, but I suddenly started to doubt myself and felt paralyzed in my course of action. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t have thoughts of ending my life. I believed I still had another fighting chance but was too bruised to navigate the battlefield to know what I was fighting for.
But hope was ultimately still on my side—I just had to choose to believe in another day. As despaired as I was, in the depths of that darkness, I realized that I was not ready to quit—I believed I still had another fighting chance. I realized that I had a lot of life left to live. I was driven and determined to understand the purpose beneath my struggles and to find solutions.
The darkness forced me into a space where I knew I needed change if I ever wanted to find the light again. I knew I needed help—I just didn’t know what that entailed. My struggle brought me into a state of helplessness, which was good because it forced me to give up control—a control that I had for such a long time so desperately tried to maintain. This made way for anything to enter in and change me from the inside out. My pain made way for a space of reflection. My pain opened me up.
As helpless or lost as you might feel in your struggle, one of the good things is that it is your calling for help. If you feel your struggle is too big to handle, it is a sign that you need help—and needing help is a good thing! Your struggle will show you the route you need to take to find healing and wholeness if you’re willing to listen to it and open yourself up to a different way. Surrender is undoubtedly humbling because you realize that you can’t do it alone. As scary as this is, I want to assure you that this is good. Let your pain open you up.
Your past struggles are inspirations for your present struggles.
On days that my despair returned, one of the methods I employed was to look back at my prior challenges in my life and acknowledge how I overcame them. This was essential for me in maintaining some sense of self-worth when I was prone to dwell on what my life had become and to become paralyzed in that confusion. Reminding myself of other challenges I overcame helped me to know that I would push through this challenge, just as I had in all my other challenges. Thinking about the things I was most proud of in my life helped me to find my way back to hope and choose to believe that I would rise again in this struggle too.
I remembered struggling to cope when my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. I thought I was going to lose her but I replaced that fear with love and service for her. I remembered struggling as a young man with the negative perception within spiritual circles that came with having two children out of wedlock. I was often treated like an abomination at church, which made me feel broken, defeated, and ashamed. But I overcame those feelings of shame by deciding that I was going to be a heavily-involved father and a positive role model to my daughters—someone who took care and spent time with his children, someone who would build strong co-parenting relationships for the health and stability of my daughters. I remembered being the first in my family to finish college and the challenging road I had to travel to get my degree. But I beat the odds. And I remembered many other challenges that led to proud moments, challenges where I was shaken but not stirred.
No matter how big or small our current difficulties, the truth is that it’s easy to just focus on our struggles and forget about the many other blessings in our lives or how we’ve prevailed through struggles in our pasts. In the eye of the storm, it is easy to forget how strong you really are. When so overwhelmed, it’s easy to fold to feelings of shame, hopelessness, and despair. It’s vital that you remind yourself of truths about your existence when your self-worth is on trial. Know this: you are not broken. You are not a failure. You are not damaged goods. You are loved. Your life is precious. Remembering your past struggles and how you overcame them can be a source for hope whenever you feel overwhelmed.
Your struggle is a testimony for someone else, and someone else’s struggle is a testimony for you.
At one of my foreclosure hearings I met Dave, who told me that he lost his job because of the financial crisis and was overwhelmed with medical bills. Dave was going to lose his house and had no clue as to what his life was going to look like after foreclosure. Although our circumstances were different, I could easily empathize with Dave’s struggle. Neither of us had any idea what would become of our lives. And neither of us had solutions to our problems. But I remember talking and uniting around our brokenness. Dave didn’t fix a single thing in my life, but his willingness to share his story with me, in the very thick of his trial, helped me to know that I was not alone. His struggle was a testimony for me, an inspiration for hope.
It’s easy to isolate yourself when your life is in shambles because of embarrassment or shame, but isolation is usually provoked by pride. The truth is that most have had many moments in their lives when they’ve felt out of control and hopeless. Sharing your sufferings and feelings of brokenness with others can help you to stand in solidarity with those who are hurting. It is difficult to have compassion for others in their pain if you don’t know what it’s like to hurt yourself.
Although Dave and I never stayed in touch following our foreclosure encounter, I remember leaving our conversation with an extra gust of wind in my sails, just knowing that we were in the fight together. Now I am determined to share my own story with others whenever they are hurting—so people know that I am in their corner and that they are not alone in their fight, just as Dave did for me. Without explaining my pain, he simply let me know that he was there for me, the most profound thing that can be done in times of suffering.
Your struggle is preparation and training for your purpose.
The complex feelings that arose in my confusion ultimately forced me to finally begin to confront my struggles. I needed a reason to believe again. Just as the night makes way for the day, my darkness was preparing me for something new. Every confusing and uncomfortable thing I felt was forcing me to confront my own insecurities and engage the hard questions of life. I didn’t have words for it at the time, but now I can see that in the midst of life feeling more out of control than ever, my journey was actually just beginning. The chaos is where the journey begins.
I didn’t know what that journey would entail. I didn’t even know what my purpose was. All I knew is that I wanted to become a better person—I wanted a better life. I needed to find the purpose for my life—I needed to find my purpose. I had no idea of how to start over or what to do, but the overwhelming nature of the situation left me no other choice but to confront the harsh realities of life. I was overcome with unknowing and uncertainty and many days still plagued by darkness, but it was as if I could feel the facades I had constructed slipping away. Layers around my heart were being peeled back. I couldn’t explain it, but I felt that my struggles were training and preparing me for something down the road. They were pulling me into the journey, and I knew there was no going back.
Let’s pause for a moment: what struggles are you experiencing in your life? What signals have you noticed for change? What areas do you want to change? What struggles are you reluctant to confront?
PRINCIPLES TO CONSIDER
1. Your struggle is your signal for change and your opportunity for growth.
2. Your struggle is unique to you.
3. Your struggle is your calling for help.
4. Your past struggles are inspirations for your present struggles.
5. Your struggle is a testimony for someone else, and someone else’s struggle is a testimony for you.
6. Your struggle is preparation and training for your purpose.
PURPOSE KEY #1 Face Your Struggle
Face your struggles to help you identify opportunities for change, personal growth and development, getting help, and clues about your purpose in life.
· ASK yourself: How can I better confront my struggles?
· TELL yourself: I will venture deeply into the heart of my struggles, confront them fully, learn from them, and overcome them.
· MAKE yourself: Recognize the signals for change from your struggles. Establish a baseline of the changes you want for your life. Confront and embrace your struggles. Understand and learn from your struggles. Recognize the uniqueness in your struggles. Look for patterns and clues in your struggles. Use those patterns and clues to help you identify opportunities for help and personal growth. Use your past struggles, proud moments, and accomplishments to inspire and empower you in how you tackle your current and future struggles.
· REFLECT: Do the activity, Reflection #1: Face Your Struggle, in the workbook that accompanies this book to journal your thoughts, feelings, and ideas from this chapter for a deeper self-reflection experience. This activity will also help you: connect with your own personal story and your current struggles; find inspiration from your past struggles, proud moments and accomplishments; identify patterns and areas in your struggles for personal development and getting help.