Some years ago, I received a card from a good friend after I was passed over for a job I was really hoping to get. It was my dream job and even though I did all I could do make myself the best candidate I just didn’t get it.
“We can do hard things,” the card said in big, bold letters on the front.
At the time I got it, I was lost. I didn’t understand how things could turn out the way they did, after I worked so hard and gave everything I had to get the job. The card gave me just a little bit of comfort to know that my friend knew the difficult feelings I was dealing with. But I soon set it aside and tried my best to move on.
A few weeks later, I was moving out of that house, which meant culling through all my things and getting rid of anything I didn’t need for the move. Going through some papers and old mail, I found the card again. I looked at it hard and considered whether or not I should keep it.
“No,” I said to myself, “No, we shouldn’t have to do hard things,” and I threw it in the trash. I didn’t want to hold on to that reminder anymore.
Why hadn’t things worked out like I believed they should? I had done everything…everything I could to prepare. I worked hard in school, I gave myself to my work and my calling. I networked. I had seen my friends all landing in wonderful positions where they were supposed to be and where they were thriving and growing. I believe I was meant to go down this path. But for some reason, it just didn’t work out the way I hoped.
We can do hard things.
The end of the decade is drawing near and many of my friends are looking back on how their lives have changed over these ten years. One of the precocious teenagers I work with pointed out to me that it’s actually not the end of the decade yet, that the new decade doesn’t really begin until 2021. But there’s something about that zero that represents a starting over – the end of one time and the beginning of another.
As I look back on the last decade in my own life, those words keep echoing in my head. We can do hard things. I wish I had kept that precious card. The message was true, even though it was too painful at the time for me to hold onto. When I look back on the last decade of my life, I realize it was the decade when I learned that I can do hard things.
More than that, I think the last decade has taught me that I can do hard things on my own. This is the decade when it really felt like, for the first time in my life, I had to be the one – the one who made hard decisions, the one who had to keep pulling myself through when things got really hard and the one who faced whatever came up.
In the last decade, I started and completed a master’s program. I moved nine times and lived in four different cities. I had eight different jobs. I adopted a dog. I ran a mini-marathon and two century bike rides. I traveled to Israel/Palestine, Santa Barbara, California, Las Vegas, Nevada and New York City – four places I never thought I would go in my life. I saw the Pacific Ocean and the Grand Canyon.
I did hard, wonderful things. Things that I really want to remember from this decade.
I left Lousville and moved to North Carolina to start grad school. Leaving wasn’t an easy decision. But I’ll never forget talking it over with my mother, who looked back at me with the most honest compassion and vexation I’ve ever seen in a person. “You’ve gotta go to North Carolina! And you know it.” She was right. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
I was published for the first time. February 1, 2011. For the first time ever, I felt I had something important enough to say and to share it with a broader audience. The words came to me almost effortlessly and I enjoyed the feeling of joining a larger conversation with others. Writing has been my way of making sense of the world and of myself.
I served in my first church and, a year later, was ordained to ministry by that same church. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to stumble into a calling, a life’s work that brings you so much joy and frustration and hard work and love. But that’s what happened to me and it’s been a part of my journey ever since.
But I also did hard things that were, well…just hard.
I lived far away from my family. I made some of the best friends I’ve ever made in life and then we all moved away and on to other things.
I struggled with ending two relationships that I thought were the one. And then ended a slew of others that I knew weren’t the one but wasn’t ready to let them go.
I struggled with my calling. I knew my work brought me joy. The hard part was finding someone to hire me to do it. I have a digital stack of over 50 applications to places, asking that they hire me. I can count on one hand the ones that lead to interviews. It’s hard to know exactly what you want to do and not be able to do it.
Yes, we can do hard things. It may not always feel that way, especially when we’re caught in the day-to-day mire of getting by – of paying bills, cleaning the house, preparing work projects, taking the dog out, trying to save more and organize our time better and also keep in touch with those we love. But every now and then, at least once a decade or so, it helps to step back and take the 5,000-foot view. To take in all the beautiful and hard things you’ve done and seen and become. And to see that you’re still standing.
As this decade comes to a close and we prepare to welcome a new one, I’ve come across these words from David Whyte on solace:
“Solace is the beautiful, imaginative home where disappointment can go to be rehabilitated. When life does not in any way add up, we must turn to the part of us that has never wanted a life of simple calculation.”
It has been a decade of doing hard things. But in doing hard things, I have also found solace – that imaginative place where disappointment turns into opportunity, where grief turns into surrender and then into strength, and where life goes on wildly and wonderfully beyond our simple calculations. It’s certainly not how I planned the decade to go…and I think that’s the point.