What To Do When Life Hits You In The Face
3 practical lessons from my favorite books.
Life is beautiful, but sometimes it hits you in the face. With a chair. Swung by the incredible hulk. You can’t avoid it, but what you do when it happens makes all the difference.
On a Monday a few weeks ago, I met with my girlfriend to rent an apartment together and book flights for our summer holiday. Instead, she told me she needs some time apart to sort out her life, wasn’t herself in our relationship anyway, and hated parts of my character and way of living. What a lovely way to start the week.
When you break up, get fired from your dream job, or someone you love dies, it’s like the rug gets pulled from under your feet. One moment, you soar sky-high. The next, you crash into the ground like an old building during an earthquake, shattering your world without warning.
There’s nothing to prepare you for the emotional sucker punch, but here’s how you can deal with the aftermath and take a few points off the suckiness scale.
“You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.”
— Rocky Balboa
Pain Is Inevitable, but Suffering Is Optional
In his #1 New York Times bestseller The Power of Now, author Eckhart Tolle argues resistance to pain is what causes suffering. When you’re hurt, confused, and your head is spinning with the speed of a ballerina in crescendo, the last you want is some semi-spiritual wisdom about acceptance. Yet, it’s exactly what you need.
When you don’t resist, you don’t suffer.
Distracting yourself with work, friends, TV shows, food, and a hearty amount of drugs takes off the edge, but it’s still a form of resistance. No matter what you try, the pain will come back. You have to give it space.
The first few days, I tried to go on with my life and push down the painful feelings whenever they emerged, which was like trying to clog an active volcano.
One morning, I turned on my favorite melancholic playlist, gave in to the emotions, and bawled my eyes out for three hours straight. While it was overwhelming at first, the crying and screaming helped. With the dam broken, the sadness and hurt washed over me like a Tsunami, drowning me in a maelstrom of pure pain. But once the storm was over, my inner ocean became a lot calmer.
You won’t wash away all your pain in a single session. Life can be a bitch, and some things can take years to recover from. But every time you deal with the hurt, you relieve some of the pressure and mend the wound.
Feel it to heal it.
Never Forget the First Rule of Holes
I’m a huge Harry Potter fan — the bestselling books have inspired millions of people and taught me life lessons I’ll never forget.
In his first year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry enjoys a Halloween feast with the other students, when suddenly the doors burst open. Professor Quirrel storms in, stuttering a few words about a troll in the castle before passing out and hitting the floor like a wet rag.
After half a second of neurochemical activity in the students’ brains, they go apeshit, terrified by a rampaging troll on its way to bash their heads in.
Before panic claims its first victims, headmaster Albus Dumbledore gets up and with his sonorous voice yells “SIIILENCE!” Everyone obeys, the head students evacuate the others, and the teachers go knock out the troll.
The first rule of holes is this: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
Complaints and panic don’t help. When I woke up the morning after our talk, I felt like not doing anything at all. No morning routine, no tea, no shower — just emotional numbness. Some weird, self-destructive part of wanted to run and give up everything, including the business I worked so hard for during the last years. I somehow wanted to dig the hole deeper.
When life gets you off track, don’t break the rails. You’ll feel like marinating in self-pity until you’re a juicy mess, abandoning all your routines, and scooping ice cream into your mouth until you’re as round as the balls of sugary goodness you’re shoveling. Don’t let yourself.
Sulk, cry, scream, and be angry all you want. But don’t dig the hole any deeper. You’ll only make it harder for yourself to climb out.
Life goes on, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now.
Process, Paper, People
When you’re hurt, you want to hide from the world — but healing is a lot easier with the help of others.
Express yourself and you’ll process your thoughts, taking a huge weight off your chest. It’s like a cold shower. There’s resistance in the beginning, but you feel a lot better afterward.
In the first few days, my headphones were my best friends, whether outside or in my apartment. Since I didn’t want to talk to others, I conversed with the most patient listener there is — paper.
Every day, I journaled, digging deep into my soul and vomiting what I found onto the page. Eventually, I opened up to friends. That’s when the real healing began.
Your friends and family can’t take the load off your shoulders, but they can help you carry it. If you’re not ready for others yet, talk to paper. Write down everything inside your head, until you’ve cast all your pain into ink and your fingers hurt more than your heart.
Whatever happens, remember this: There’s someone out there willing to listen to you. A family member. A long-lost friend. A stranger on the street. We’re all humans. You’re not alone.
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