“‘One day you will find the gift in all this.’
Initially, I couldn’t believe my therapist had the audacity to put a positive spin on my crisis. As I sat in her Baltimore office sobbing, I’m grateful I had enough perspective in the moment to consider she might be right. I’d been suffering for months. Triggered by a toxic relationship, I was alternating between obsessive workouts, dangerous binges, and a variety of other self-sabotaging behaviors. I felt hopeless and dead on the inside, but there must have been some flicker of light still burning. I wanted so badly to feel whole again, but at 25 I didn’t have enough life lessons under my belt to understand healing wasn’t going to happen overnight. I’d never been a patient person, so I became trapped in a cycle of quick fixes, soaring highs, and plunging lows. In my desperation, I held on tightly to the idea not only could something positive be waiting for me on the other side of this, but that I deserved it.
Let me be clear, finding the gift is not the same as believing everything happens for a reason. I cringe when I hear that statement because I think there’s real harm in coping with life’s inevitable tragedies by assigning a rational justification. It prevents us from accepting the reality accidents, miscarriages, heartbreaks, diseases, financial crises, and natural disasters can happen by chance. It feels cheap to regard a trying situation as a sacrificial trade-off for something better. We’re all just random beings bopping around the universe with our free will, having human experiences. There’s no evidence to suggest otherwise. Some of those experiences suck, but they offer an opportunity to find meaning and evolve our personal purpose. Hear me out with a few personal examples.
Finding the gift in unemployment. I lost my job during the 2008 financial crisis. It was my first real career setback, and it really rocked my self-confidence. I knew it would be challenging to find another job in the consulting industry, and my bank account was not equipped to support a socialite lifestyle while I job hunted. It was a stressful nine months, to say the least. But when I think about that time now, all I can remember is the best Chicago summer of my life. Turns out a lot of young professionals were laid off, and we developed a nice routine of job hunting in the a.m. and finding the best cheap things to do in the city the rest of the day. I was in great shape, had a dope tan, and eventually landed an even better job with the company I’m at now. I thought that was my gift and I was grateful. But in an interesting turn of events, somewhere between the beach days and Cubs games, I met a fellow unemployed urbanite who would one day become my husband. That was my gift.
Finding the gift in grief. My Dad had all these silly mottos when we were kids. They were basically dad jokes paired with a life lesson. A few years ago, when he started chemo and radiation treatments, we brought back one of his favorites—‘be the ball’—to cheer him on. As I watched him lose his battle with cancer, it was tempting to tell myself there was a reason for his pain in order to make sense of my own. But what reason could possibly justify his suffering? To find a reason felt more dishonorable than accepting the fact the universe is indifferent and trying to create meaning out of the experience for myself. Finding the gift in my Dad’s death was tricky. I had a toddler and a baby on the way when he died, and I often fixated on the reality my children would never know him. But as I settled back into the normal ups and downs of life, I found myself leaning on ‘be the ball’ more than ever: our son’s autism diagnosis, a new job opportunity, the decision to start a new business. In moments when I need to take a leap, stay true to myself, or make a bold move, I embrace my Dad’s goofy spirit and wise sentiment. The mantra went largely unappreciated for most of my life has become the blueprint for how I approach major decisions and crossroads. It’s a real gift in this time of looming uncertainty. With a wink and a glance up to heaven, I tell myself to be the ball.
Finding the gift in defeat. Back to 25-year-old me. That day in therapy was not the turning point, but the string of events which ensued as a result of my downward spiral made me a believer: my parents’ rescue mission, therapy, self-acceptance, healing. I reluctantly left Baltimore to be closer to family in Cleveland, then spent the better part of a year focused on mindfulness, mental health, and finding joy. When the time was right, I jumped on an opportunity to start a new life in Chicago. Now here I am, raising these beautiful boys with my best friend, living close to our extended family, enjoying a rewarding career, with a supportive tribe of women to lean on…would I have any of this, had I not left Baltimore waving my white flag? The real gift is I’ll never have to find out.
Look, the system isn’t perfect. Gifts aren’t always easy or life-changing or neatly packaged. Little things like spending more time outdoors with my kids during the pandemic can be a gift within a tragedy. I’ve also had hardships that didn’t seem to yield any gifts. As an example, I’ve not been able to identify a gift associated with the sudden passing of my sister. Perhaps I’m not ready to see the positive in that experience. But ultimately, as I sit here 15 years after my therapist first assured me I’d find the gift, I stand by the value it’s brought to my life. It’s a form of gratitude and a simple way to shift your perspective, turn problems into possibilities, and find peace in chaos. Who doesn’t need that now?”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kate Rahman. You can follow her journey on her blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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