This is an open letter to anyone whose life has recently fallen apart.
My father told me, “Life begins at 36.” That turned out to be true. But before my new life could begin, my old life had to crumble. I did not see that part coming.
Nevertheless, I made it to the other side of the great crumbling. Here I am today, intact enough to write this letter to you, wherever you are.
When you’re standing in the rubble of your own life, dazed and confused, wondering “What the hell just happened to me?” it’s natural to think things like:
I will never recover from this.
Yes, you will. You can and you will.
My life is ruined.
Yes, that’s true. Your old life lies in ruins at your feet, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. There is no going back to the way things were.
No one will ever look at me the same way again.
Also true. Some people will criticize you. Some people will pity you. Some will tell themselves that such a thing would never happen to them, because they are not as reckless, foolish, crazy, desperate, or (fill in the blank) as you are. Some will admire the hell out of you for enduring what you have, but will never tell you this. You may take their silence for disapproval, but don’t assume you know what anyone is thinking.
Don’t assume anything right now. When your life has fallen apart, you don’t know shit. I’m not trying to make you feel worse than you already do. I say this with a smile, and I offer my congratulations. Realizing you don’t know shit is an invitation to become a more humble, curious, and determined student of life. Whole new worlds will open up to you when you admit you don’t know shit. Public libraries, the internet, and your fellow human beings are standing by, waiting for the opportunity to blow your mind with the multitudes they contain.
Have you ever remodeled a house? After the demolition, it’s a mess — much like your life now. And yet, people knock down walls and tear up floorboards every day, in the name of change, in the hope of building something better. The same thing happens in our lives. The structures we build for ourselves can only withstand so much. Even when the ground beneath our feet feels solid, some fissures run deep. Forces we cannot see or control may come rippling through at any moment, shaking our foundations and bringing our walls tumbling down.
Maybe you took a sledgehammer to your own life.* Maybe a hurricane or a death in the family swept away everything you knew. A lover walked out, or doctor walked in with the worst news of your life. You lost everything.
Whatever happened, your life did not go the way you expected it to go, and now you find yourself at a place you don’t want to be, e.g. reeling from a loss, frustrated or burned out in a career track, dealing with a serious illness.
Whether you chose it or not, you’re in the middle of a life remodel. This is a profound and fortuitous event, the chance of a lifetime. Do you know how many people dream of making a major life change, but never quite get around to it? You are ahead of the game! Your life has already changed in a major way, has it not?
Thanks to your life falling apart, you are now free to rebuild it. Since everything has crumbled around you anyway, and your foundation is not as stable as you thought it was, it’s the perfect opportunity to change your life, to rebuild it into the “you” you’ve always wanted to be.
The best part is, you can start small. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And it can be a baby step. That’s okay. You’ve got to start somewhere. Just start where you are. It doesn’t matter how far you get at first. What matters is that you’re taking steps.
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*I did this, and I do not recommend it unless you are as reckless, foolish, crazy, desperate, or (fill in the blank) as I was, and you are prepared to pay the price. That journey is not for the faint of heart. Once you begin, there is no turning back. There will be no undoing what you have done. The only way out is through. So make the journey worthwhile.