Years ago, I had a secret goal in my mind … a measure of success. I thought that it would be remarkable to be the type of person who was featured on Australian Story.
Those people, they are often incredibly everyday in so many ways – and then in the depths of their character, they reveal themselves to be extraordinary.
Courageous. Clever. Compassionate. Champions.
And I figured if we have one life to lead these are the qualities that would make me feel the greatest sense of achievement at the end of my days.
Then I started to see a pattern: these people on Australian Story that I admired so much, they had all experienced real hardships.
Life changing accidents, debilitating illnesses, grief beyond my comprehension and hardships that made me weep.
I decided I just wanted to live – not do hard times, after all. Just live day by day, an easy life.
This is a picture of Randall and I at a police ball circa 1999, very early on in our relationship. Since then, hard times have come knocking, persistently.
We have had to surrender careers, health, income, identity and security twice in our married life.
Each time, those hard times have caused us to question everything in our lives and take a good, hard look at who we were and what mattered to us.
Each time, we have made it through to the other side.
During COVID-19, both Randall and I have received countless calls from people doing it tough – on the brink of losing their careers, their businesses, their income, their identity and their security.
This is what we have learned about coming through hard times.
Nothing Lasts Forever
Even hard days end. And Good days do the same.
In the thick of it, it may be hard to see your way through to the other side. Step out of yourself and think about friends and family who have done it tough. For as long as they draw breathe, there is always the end of the hard days. Life carries on.
That is why Australian Story exists – because life carries on.
We can focus on the darkness of the hardship and feel lost in it.
Or we can acknowledge we are standing in hard times and that time will keep moving forward. Eventually, we will move forward too.
When we forget that nothing lasts forever, we lose hope. When we remember that nothing lasts forever, we hold hope. Ultimately, hope is completely within our control.
Be Brave, Not Bitter
In our lives, we will all experience loss.
We don’t have to like that. In fact, some losses will double us over in grief and we would do anything to get back who or what we have loved with every part of our being.
The fact is: we cannot hit an undo button.
Life has served us up loss and we will mourn. Life serves up hard times and we will suffer.
Always, we are faced with a choice. We can blame and we can grow bitter.
Or we can be bold enough to realise we are solely in charge of our response and we can choose to be brave.
I remember in the early days after Randall had received his notice of forced medical retirement from the Queensland Police Service. The day came to hand in his police badge and accoutrements at police headquarters. A stranger took them and left Randall to walk out the door without a word of thanks for his service or acknowledgement of the ending of his career. It was another hard day in a hard time.
Randall looked for someone to blame and one name came to mind. A boss who had treated him particularly badly at a time Randall was already very unwell. Bitterness grew.
Luckily for us, Randall was invited to a men’s breakfast and he went along to listen to what the speaker that morning had to say. The message was simple: for as long as you let bitterness grow, as long as you blame someone or something else for the state your life is in, you will always be stuck in that space. Randall decided that day never to utter a bad word again about that boss and instead to take complete control of his own attitude and response.
Randall has seen him a number of times since then, and always mentally thanks him – for on the other side of the hardships, life has been different than what we expected all those years ago, in many ways, for the better.
Don’t sit in bitterness and blame when hardship comes. No matter how you got here, the fact is you are here: so what are you going to do about it?
Be brave enough to take personal charge of your response.
Get Your Priorities Straight
There’s nothing like hard times for making what matters most to you stand up front and centre.
On our first big outing with hardship, it was pretty clear that the thing that mattered most was Randall’s health and creating a happy family, with enough money to put a roof over our heads and food on the table.
On our second big outing with hardship, the thing that mattered most was Randall’s health, creating a happy family, with the roof over our heads, food on the table and doing work we could both be proud of.
On our third big outing with hardship, the most important thing was the health of both of us, creating a happy family, with the roof over our heads, food on the table and doing work we could both be proud of in a way that we both enjoyed.
Each time, we have had to let go of things that stung our egos but not our priorities.
Consistently, we have found that the things that truly matter are directly related to the people that matter.
Navigating the hard stuff gets a whole lot easier when you understand what and who you are fighting for each day.
Battle Softened, not Battle Hardened
A friend rang Randall in this COVID-19 time and found that Randall was calm and optimistic.
“Well, I guess you pair are battle hardened after all you’ve been through,” he said.
“Not battle hardened, mate”, Randall replied, “Battle softened.”
It is true.
When we first started lining up for life’s hard days, we used to get ready for war. We were defensive and every hit felt like it left us stumbling around the ring. Life’s hard days loomed large and seemed to fill every part of our thoughts and dictate our behaviour.
We were tense and edgy. Fear ruled, making us clench up, and we hardened ourselves waiting for the knockout blow, every single day.
Then over time, we started to realise something: this defensive position, it was taking all our energy and leading to poor decision making. It was consuming our lives when life was a long way from done.
Instead, we learned to roll with some punches. We learned to relax a bit more into the challenges. We took time to play with the kids, to laugh at a funny story, to ask other people about their life, to create space to think more calmly and to ask for help. We found silver linings that softened us to the experience.
Instead of obsessing about the worst possible outcome, we would acknowledge it and then put it in perspective: if that was the worst, we were optimistic we could get through.
And if the worst happened, well, at least we knew what we were facing now.
When we were softer, honest about the challenges but with that whisper of hope, people responded better and we lived better even though times were still hard.
It may not be easy, it may not be all fun but it is possible to live through your hard times.
We have proven it time and time again.
Look Up, Look Out
Sometimes, during the hard times, we just get consumed with our own hardship.
Sometimes, it is unimaginable that the whole world can even be functioning still – going about their daily business as if nothing is wrong.
The truth is that for our hard days, someone else is celebrating a good day. For every loss, someone is welcoming an addition to their lives.
Over our years, we have found that when we are most consumed with our own world, it is the most important time to look up and look out for ways to help other people and to hear other people.
It reminds us that life brings both joy and sorrows, both easy days and hard days.
Sometimes it gives us a healthy dose of perspective: the world is not about us, and our hard day may well be someone else’s walk in the park compared to their own crisis.
Helping someone or hearing someone is always a positive action that we can take.
And sometimes that is just the reminder of the control and influence we do have in the world that we need to dust ourselves off and sort out our own challenges.
Just remember when all you can see is your own perspective, it is time to look up and look out.
You can do this.
No matter where you are at in this COVID-19 pandemic, in your life’s challenges, you can do this.
You can be courageous.
You can be clever.
You can be compassionate.
You can make it through the hard days and better days will come.
And trust me, there are a lot of good people ready to back you up and encourage you through to the other side.