by Rebecca Ward, author of “The Paper Tiger Syndrome: How to Liberate Yourself from the Illusion of Fear“
No matter how carefully we lay plans, at some point life is going to disrupt us and pull us off course: The college says no. The job lays you off. The boyfriend or girlfriend dumps you. We get sick or someone dies. A pandemic comes along and changes everything… When these things happen, we’re told to, “get on with it!” And, sure, it sounds like good advice. But nobody actually tells you how to get on with it.
So, how do you move through times of failure, disappointment and disruption—and come out stronger on the other side? Building real resilience and authenticity requires surrendering the illusion of control. In place of that illusion you can cultivate three important qualities that I call, “The Three F’s.” If I’d known about “The Three F’s” when I was younger, it would have saved me years of heartache and struggle.
The first “F” is to be fierce. When you’re fierce, you care about things beyond yourself. You’re willing to take risks, to put yourself out there, to believe that your contribution to this world matters. Because it does.
One time, after a particularly traumatic event turned everything in my life upside down, I asked myself a question that had never occurred to me before: What is this event here to teach me? What I slowly started to learn was that the disruptions provided opportunities for me to step back, look at my mistakes and my failures, and learn from them.
That’s when I had a pivotal insight: Do not resist the disruptions. Resistance makes you rigid and brittle. It makes you cling to things that no longer serve you, when you’d be better off letting go. It makes you give up on things that you want, because taking chances feels too scary. Rather than resisting unexpected change, be fluid (the second “F”). Being fluid means staying curious and open in the face of life’s challenges.
When you combine fierceness with fluidity, it becomes a powerful catalyst for wisdom and growth. Being fierce and fluid assures that you’re neither conforming to stay safe or rebelling just to be provocative. It’s about learning how to walk that middle road of being able to listen to your own inner wisdom that tells you when to stay on the steady path and when to roll with the changes.
Life is a laboratory. Along the way you’ll make a lot of mistakes. We all do. And that’s why being forgiving of yourself (the third “F”) is so important. You’re going to change your mind many, many times. You’re going to get things wrong and make bad decisions. Forgiving those lapses in judgment allows you to pick yourself up and keep pushing forward, even when the effort isn’t perfect.
Life is too short to hold yourself hostage to past mistakes. Forgive yourself and know that there’s something else here for you that’s more powerful than what you were doing before. Likewise, make the effort to forgive others. We’re all flawed human beings. We’re going to say and do things that we wish we could take back or do differently. When you’re willing to forgive someone else for their mistakes, you’re acknowledging that it’s OK to be human. We can course correct and do better next time. Being forgiving is a sign of maturity, too.
If you know up front that life isn’t going to go as planned — for anyone — it’s easier to make the choice to see every experience, every disruption, every celebration, every surprise as an opportunity to grow and to learn about who you are and what your unique path is going to be. You’re never going to feel like you know everything. I have a friend who’s seventy-three years old and she said to me the other day, “I think I’m starting to finally figure life out!”
That’s how life is — even when you are older! You’re always learning. You’re always growing. You’re always being challenged to go just a little further than you think you can. And that’s OK. Not just OK — it’s wonderful. That’s what makes life such an incredible adventure.
So, forget about the scripts you’ve been handed. When life disrupts your plans, when it sends you down a path that you never expected, remember the Three Fs: Be fierce. Be fluid. And be forgiving. If you follow these Fs, you will always find your way back to yourself again.
Rebecca A. Ward, LMFT, SEP, PCC, is the author of “The Paper Tiger Syndrome: How to Liberate Yourself from the Illusion of Fear“. She is a business consultant and executive coach, author, speaker, and licensed therapist. With more than 25 years of experience as a management consultant and leadership coach, she brings a wealth of knowledge about how stress can erode the health of executives and the organizations in which they lead.