It starts with a moment. In the movie Up, the geniuses at Pixar put us through one of the most upsetting opening sequences of all time. It took only ten minutes to show the lives of the two above fictional characters — a married couple who met when they were kids, fell in love, and grew old together. When she dies, the cute little old man is left alone, leaving viewers like me sobbing.
At the beginning of the Harry Potter series both of Harry’s parents have been murdered by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His entire life is colored by the fact that he’s an orphan and must avenge his parents' death to save the magical world. In a clever way, J.K. Rowling writes to make the reader see that because he had gone through such trauma as a little boy, he was stronger and more equipped than the other wizards to handle this master task.
Unfortunately, for most of us, our lives and losses aren’t quite as cinematic as these. We are still stuck thinking of an escape plan from a quiet neighborhood or the Dursley’s broom closet. Our stories haven’t really started yet. We haven’t made it past the opening sequence or found a way to activate our origin stories.
We are just surviving, writing a new sentence everyday we wake up, stuck in the vicious cycle of it all.
Heroism or happiness seem exclusive to fictional characters and “other” people. But what if they didn’t? What if we approached our lives as if we were writing epic novellas and films? What if we chose to see each and every moment of pain as an opportunity to become precisely what fate, God, the Universe, or our ancestors intended?
How might grief, loss, or adversity fit into your story in an empowering way?
What if, like Harry and the cute little old man, you decided today to start towards something new — despite whatever pain you feel inside?
Harry Potter’s adventures don’t start when his parents die. And Up doesn’t start when the cute little old man’s wife dies.
Each story starts in a different moment — a moment of the main character’s choosing. With Harry, it’s the choice to attend Hogwarts despite his aunt and uncle’s wishes. With the widower, Carl, it’s the choice to tie his house to a bunch of balloons and go up, up, up.
In the same way, having experienced your own pain, adversity, and struggles, you are searching for this moment. You have an inkling of hope that these setbacks are the catalyst for something much greater. You hope and pray this is just the start of your story, not the end.
At least, I did.
I lost my mom when I was 22. That same year, I’d found out my dad was cheating on her with a much younger woman. In the same period, I came out as gay and I graduated college with no real ambitions.
What ensued in the following months was darkness, the kind of darkness that’s hard to see or describe. It’s blinding. Yet, like I imagine the relationship fish have with water, is an overlooked part of reality.
Yet, unlike fish, and more so like the awareness of The Little Mermaid, you are aware:
“I want to be where the people are…up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun. Wandering free, wish I could be part of that world.”
Like water, like fins, the darkness separates you from joining. It was as if I knew that I could get back to that world, yet didn’t know how. This tantalizing nature — of life happening over there — made everything worse.
I had a few years to project what life after mom would feel like, to justify and intellectualize mortality, suffering, and all other existential worry. Still, I couldn’t have been more unprepared. I thought, I guess, that the moment she died — my life would change.
But the moment my life changed was not holding my mom’s hand as she took her last breath. It wasn’t the wake or the funeral. It wasn’t the moment we closed the casket or buried her either. It wasn’t the memorial run we did for her a few months later.
It was when I watched this TED talk by Shawn Achor about positive psychology. It makes little to no sense to me now based on how much self-help, psychology, neurology, and philosophy I’ve read. His ideas are both revolutionary and commonplace to me now.
Nevertheless, this idea hit me:
“We’re finding it’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.”
All of the sudden, I realized, that it wasn’t me or my life that was broken. It wasn’t that my mom died or my dad cheated. It wasn’t the people around me who didn’t accept me.
The pain was merely a result of the lens by which I was viewing my life. And if I could switch out that lens, I could change my life, or at the very least, my experience of it.
Even after the worst had happened, I was still in control of how my life would turn out.
When the problem exists out there — due to forces outside of our control — we are powerless. But, when we flip that, when we take control for our experiences — we also take our own power back.
First, I committed to running for 21 days straight (because Shawn says that’s how long it takes to build a habit). Everyday, despite not wanting to do it, I got on the treadmill or I went out in the snow and rain.
For me, that was the start of something new. Over the next many years, I built substantially better habits. One by one, I started lifting consistently. I started reading everyday. I stopped drinking. I started eating better. I started meditating and journaling. I started being honest when I could.
I started seeing the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be — financially, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and intellectually — as a result of whatever actions I was willing to take.
Like Harry, I was given an opportunity. An opportunity born out of pain, out of suffering. Grief itself — and the corresponding depression — was my training ground. It was my pathway to becoming better in every imaginable way.
And that, my friend, is what I wish for you. To see this moment — yes, this moment right here — as your moment. The one you get to choose to pass by or take in. The moment to ask yourself:
What am I going to make of these unfair, unjust, bullshit things that happened in my life?
Take the red pill.
There is a certain unveiling that comes in the aftermath of deep, spiritual struggle. In the months and years during and following, the world continues on business as usual. But it doesn’t feel “usual.”
Like Neo in The Matrix, you are presented with a choice. To try and continue making it feel usual? Or to adapt, change, and search for Truth? To stay at your current capabilities? Or to learn of your near limitless potential?
Unlike Neo, there’s a certain degree to which you can’t forget. If you choose the blue pill, metaphorically speaking of course, you stay put. You live the unexamined, business as usual kind of life.
If you choose the red pill, there’s more pain ahead, but there’s also more depth and more meaning. There is belief, beauty, faith, joy, and success on the other side.
So my friend, now is your moment.
Is it going to be the red pill or the blue pill?
Are you going to take control of your reality or continue to allow circumstance determine it for you?
The choice is yours:
To adapt or persist? To change or suffer?
The game is belief.
As Harry Potter, Up, and The Matrix teach us, what matters more than what happens, is what we believe is happening. This is what a wand, a bunch of balloons, and the red pill gives you — an insight into real reality — a place in which you are more powerful than you could have possibly imagined before.
- You want to catch the snitch? You simply need to believe.
- You want to escape a boring neighborhood? You simply need to believe.
- You want to do Kung-Fu? You simply need to believe.
If you want to change your life, you need to believe you can. If you want to stop feeling so depressed, you need to feel you are worthy. If you want to have a different experience, you need to believe you can create one. It’s as simple as that.
Becoming better, using adversity as your superpower, is a matter of believing that you can. It’s a matter of seeing untapped potential within this terrible, heartbreaking experience.
I believe in you.
And so should you.