Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, some dreaded, others hoped for, and still others that seem to just fall out of the sky. For those of us who got hit with Hurricane Sandy, falling out of sky has a special meaning.
I live in New York City, lower Manhattan to be exact. If you were watching the news on October 29, you know that we got slammed with what meteorologists call “the perfect storm.” I was sitting in my apartment alternating my attention between a book I was trying to read and looking out the window at the howling wind and rain.
My lights dimmed a few times but kept coming back. And then it was dark. And stayed that way.
The next morning I sat on my couch, kind of half asleep. The storm wasn’t so strong but my apartment was cold and there was definitely not going to be any hot coffee. “This can’t last more than a few more hours,” I said to myself. “I’ll read my book and shiver until the power comes back.”
Five days later, our electricity was finally restored. In the meantime, I had found a way to shower, eat, and get on the Internet. But only when I faced the crisis instead of waiting for the crisis to pass. By accepting what I couldn’t do anything about, I could see what I could do something about.
During the days that I was without electricity, I received a lot of email messages and texts by friends asking me if I had my “power” back, or if I was still “powerless.” Now, I guess this is what members of my profession tend to do, but I couldn’t help but think about the use of that word “power.” It’s a loaded word, right? Especially for someone like me who is often talking to people who are feeling powerless for reasons that have nothing to do with electricity. Clients who are facing a situation that they can’t make go away. Like being diagnosed with diabetes.
The week before Sandy socked us in, I met with two new clients who had recently been diagnosed. “I would like to make this go away, but I know I can’t,” one of my clients said. “I sat and cried for awhile, and I kind of stayed by myself for a couple of days. Then I decided I needed to start doing things to take care of myself. I got up and started moving.”
So the lesson that Sandy taught many of us is not so different from what we learn from the other perfect and not so perfect storms that we encounter in life: We don’t have control over everything that happens in life. We don’t always have the “power” to keep bad things from happening. We like to think we do, but life shows us otherwise.
But I was also reminded of how we also choose to be optimistic. To look at what’s possible rather than focus on what seems impossible. To decide to take the best possible care of ourselves. To be resilient.
Being a resilient person starts with believing in your own potential to face a challenge. If you’ve faced up to a medical diagnosis, you know what I mean here. That means focusing not on your “powerlessness,” in whatever form that takes, but where you do have power, and taking action. For me, that started with getting up off the couch.
Sandy also reminded me that I can’t do it all on my own. I had to call friends and ask for help with the basics, like a place to take a shower. I needed some human contact, especially during those long evenings in my cold, dark apartment. The text messages helped a lot.
During the storm, I learned to focus on what was going right in my life. To appreciate the simple pleasures like a cup of hot coffee and a few words of encouragement from someone whose life has also been turned upside down.
Life never stays the same. Sandy reminded me of how comfortable I am in my day-to-day routine. And how a stressful event can be an opportunity to look at life in a new way. Refusing to accept uncertainty and change is setting up a battle that is not only unwinnable but unnecessary. Accepting that life is about change helps you to more clearly see what you do have control over, and to take action.
I am probably preaching to the choir here, but this is my Sandy lesson. Recognize your own ability to solve problems. Get connected with your support network. Stay optimistic. Resilience is power. And the real power is in your hands!
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