Seek Out Lessons from Adversity

This summer will undoubtedly go down as the strangest in our lifetime. Recently, I decided to add an additional element of “strange” to the season by electing to have surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and bicep tendon caused by years of playing tennis. I refer to this as “strange” since this was my first surgery in 49 years on this earth (yes, I have been quite fortunate).

Those of you who have had a major medical procedure know of the physical challenges you must face during recovery. For me, I knew I would need to engage in extensive physical therapy regularly in order to get back to an active lifestyle. What I wasn’t fully prepared for were the mental obstacles that proved to be just as daunting.

I see it as being very similar to what we are experiencing with the pandemic. We have been advised by officials to maintain social distance, keep gatherings to a minimum, and wear masks when out in public. While sound guidance, they all relate to our physical wellbeing.  What I found lacking are recommendations to promote our mental well-being, which many have argued are just as necessary.

Before I “went under the knife”, I wrote an article on how to view our current state as a “window of opportunity.” Yet, as I lied waiting on the operating table for the surgery to begin, I saw my own window closing. In fact, the window all but locked in the days that followed. What I thought was going to be a 60-90 minute procedure lasted 2 ½ hours which I knew would lengthen the recovery process.

The days after the surgery were filled with comfort food, pain medication, and the 24-hour news cycle. I remember re-reading the article that I wrote and feeling hypocritical given how I was currently dealing with my own situation. Like any adversity placed upon us, I needed to find the life lessons that were being taught.

Now that I am nearing complete recovery, I wanted to take the time to reflect on my experience hoping it can provide some inspiration to those dealing with any form of adversity. Below are my three lessons:

Lesson #1: Stay in Your Circle of Influence

The concept of “The Circle of Influence” or “focusing on what we can control, not what we can’t” is a core principle in both Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I had to ask myself,

“What do I have control of at this moment?”

My list included:

  • Get Outside and Move – Although I couldn’t play tennis, I was able to walk. Beyond the physical benefits, I used the time to either listen to podcasts that would support my personal development or simply quiet the mind through silence. I even made a game out of the walks going a bit further each time. [NOTE: Try to walk for at least thirty minutes each day if you don’t already. You will see a significant change in your physical and mental well being.]
  • What I Put in My Mouth – This goes hand in hand with the first point. I learned quickly that being static attracts comfort food (Although I will admit the 15-inch Jersey Mike’s Chicken Cheesesteak with all the fixings as my post-surgery meal tasted so good!). I had the power to choose healthier options including lean proteins, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Being Positive – Walking around being miserable about my condition would not serve me, my family, my friends, and co-workers. Instead, I could choose a positive attitude and maybe influence others in the process.

Lesson #2 – Always Set Goals

While I always have been a firm believer in setting and achieving goals, I certainly wasn’t inspired to do so post-surgery. My one broad objective was to simply recover. What did that look like? When would I recover? What would I be able to do once I recovered? Conversations with my surgeon and physical therapist along with my own personal research allowed me to set a realistic target of when I would hit my first tennis ball, lift my first weight, and swing a golf club. In addition, I wanted to return to my ideal tennis playing weight which would require a reduction of fifteen pounds. Having these physical goals created the much-needed enthusiasm I was lacking in the early stages of my recovery. With the help of my physical therapy team, I am three weeks ahead of schedule in the recovery process. I was also able to achieve my ideal weight.

Lesson #3 – You…Reimagined

We know how difficult it can be envisioning a better life during adversity but that is exactly what we need to do. However, this must go beyond the physical dimension. When I work with clients who wish to make meaningful change in their lives, we focus on developing a personal code of conduct to help guide their actions. My recovery was the perfect time for me to revisit my own code of conduct. Below is my revised list:

  1. I focus on having a positive, energetic interaction with everyone I encounter – be the energy I want to attract.
  2. I read my purpose, values, goals, and code of conduct each morning and evening.
  3. I focus on what I can control and let go of things I cannot.
  4. I pray and meditate each morning and evening.
  5. I parent in a way that provides both joy and growth.
  6. I say “Yes” to projects that excite me.
  7. I check email/texts at 10am, 3pm, and 8pm.
  8. I work to strengthen the meaningful relationships in my life while distancing myself from those that are toxic.
  9. I sleep a minimum of 7 hours per night.
  10. I exercise six times per week.
  11. I grow physically, emotionally, and spiritual in order to serve others.
  12. I act in a way that will make my parents proud from above.

Your personal experience is as unique as my own. However, what is common is that each of us has had to deal with some form of adversity over the last several months. I also know that many of you reading this article have faced much greater challenges than a shoulder repair including losing your job or the mourning the death of a loved one.

My message is for you to seek the life lessons being taught to you at this time. I know it can be difficult but they are there in front of you. I urge you to find your three lessons and share them with those closest to you. Even better, pay it forward and have them do the same.