So, if we don’t grow from becoming strong at the broken places, how do we grow?
Adversity, when it adds value to our lives, does so by turning us upside down and shaking us up.. I think we grow when challenges break our strengths, forcing us to discover new ones inside ourselves.
When I look at myself before and after my accident, my strengths now are not what I had before. They are strengths that I was forced to discover and develop to cope with my new weaknesses.
Some breaks were immediately obvious. Even though I can now walk again, my balance is still impaired and I have to struggle at times to maintain it. I can no longer run, nor skip, nor dance to music. I miss folk dancing and aerobic dancing, which I used to greatly enjoy. However, the loss of balance has forced me to be more aware of what is around me and to slow down. I am now more observant and patient, because I have to be.
Other breaks revealed themselves later, I used to be able to rely on my long-term memory of small details. I remembered what I did and why. (This was not always a good thing – I used to dwell and relive my mistakes and bad judgment over and over, but that is the topic for another post.) After the accident, I discovered that my long-term memory was much weaker than what it was before.
I learned this when I sat down to review my budget and couldn’t remember how I had figured out a certain amount. So, I had to calculate it all over again. This time, having learned my lesson, I documented all my steps so that later on I would know how I got to that figure. Thus was born a new skill for making sure I keep good records of what I do and why. This has served me well ever since, both personally and professionally. Documenting my thoughts and processes helps me to think things out and verify my assumptions and decisions. It also helps me to make the correct decisions going forward. And it helps me communicate with others in a clear and organized way. So the weakening of my memory helped me to become more organized, rational and credible.
Sometimes adversity reveals to us an existing strength that masqueraded as a weakness. In previous blog posts, I have described my “pig-headed stubbornness.” This trait has often gotten me into trouble in my life, when I would be reluctant to change direction or consider other options. But when I was hurt, and my prognosis was poor and my future looked limited, my pig-headed stubbornness served me well. Because deep down I believed that only I knew what I could or could not do, and what was right for me, I persevered in my recovery, and fought my way out of the wheelchair and back to independent living.
I don’t want to paint an overly rosy picture here. Being broken hurts and loss of skills and abilities can be devastating. I mourn the loss of skills I relied on and activities I enjoyed. It has taken a long time to build new strengths and regain my balance, both literally and figuratively.
I am still trying to get some abilities back. I play games and do exercises to try to improve my long-term memory. I miss the security of knowing that I can rely on my memory, but I compensate by writing things down.
And I strive to keep my newly discovered strengths in balance. I am stubborn when it truly adds value to my attaining my goals, and I try to be flexible and open the rest of the time.. In this way, adversity has added new tools for me to use and reminded me to value, hone and use the ones that I already have.
Next: “Paralyzed!” Really?