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Negative Inspiration + Silver Linings

While it’s a cliché that the industrious among us make lemonade when handed lemons, clichés exist for a reason: they’re accurate.

So let’s talk about making lemonade.

I won’t patronize you with vapid ramblings about “positive thinking” or tell you to turn your frown upside down. We’re both smarter than that. Musings from Psych 101 are trite and irritating at best. So let’s be honest.

Sometimes life just sucks.

Sometimes bad stuff happens to good people. Sometimes that good people is you.

Promising relationships fail, money evaporates, best friends stab you in the back, jobs disappear. The board of directors turns down your raise the same day you suddenly need a root canal. Roommates turn into knife-brandishing psychos who steal your car and sell your stereo for drug money.

Life isn’t fair.

These unfortunate situations range from inconvenient to downright traumatic. Setbacks hurt. So it’s okay to be angry, to feel slighted, to grieve a loss. To shake your fists at the sky and wail, “Why me?!”

But the beauty of being a resilient, journal-wielding human being is that those emotional outbursts are not the end of your story.

They’re just the beginning.

Venting in the Present Tense

When we’re done nursing a broken heart or a busted ego, there’s almost always a shred of good we can seek in the wreckage as a consolation prize. You know, a few lemons to make some lemonade.

But before you go digging around for that citrus juicer, it’s essential to fully indulge the grieving or venting process. It’s no use to pretend everything is hunky dory straight from the break-up or the lay-off. That’s just denial.

We have to process our feelings in order to heal and move on. Anything less is a cover-up. If you don’t deal with the emotions now, they’ll simply pop up later, at a less convenient time. If you’ve got to grieve, get pissed, or get a root canal, then there’s no time like the present.

Once we’re all cried-out and ready to start moving forward, journaling about the potential benefits of any situation can help us grow at lightning speed, zooming forward and leaving the broken past behind us.

Journaling is the key to turbo-charged healing. Writing is essential through the whole process — the grief or the anger, the acute trauma, the slow healing, and the burst of forward growth that comes surely on the heels of all that pain.

Our journals provide a sounding board that never answers back, never lets us down, and always provides written proof of our growth and resiliency.

Humans aren’t always very good at handling other people’s emotions. Witnessing another’s intense fear or pain often makes us uncomfortable, which means you can’t always get the exact support you need from those around you. People are flawed. But we can always turn to our journals and vent, cry on the page, craft a hit-list, or compile a litany of reasons why we’re justified.

Journaling Your Way Forward

When you’re ready to look forward a little bit, all you need is a tiny shred of willingness to consider getting over yourself. As I talk about in the latest podcast, Inspiration in All the Wrong Places, we humans can be very attached to our pain. We wear it like a badge, so everyone knows What We’ve Been Through.

While this mentality is often warranted and sometimes necessary, it’s also dangerous. Once in victim mode, it’s difficult to let go of that attention, the sympathy, the “story” that gives a reason for us being bitter or stuck. We wallow. We sulk. We throw a pity party and invite everyone we know.

If you can become willing to let go of that story a little, put down the violin long enough to take a deep breath, it’ll get easier to consider positive outcomes. You can start small, and see how that feels.

I’ve lost my job, but I get to sleep in every day. Better yet, I don’t have to wear those damn khakis anymore. Maybe your car died, but now you’ve got an excuse to ride the bicycle that’s been languishing in the garage. (You’ve been meaning to get more exercise, anyway.)

These tiny concessions open the door to greater possibilities. They help you wrench free from the attachment to mourning. They brighten up your world view and open doors you didn’t even know existed.

Next time you find yourself at the bitter end of a thankless situation, get out your journal and start the process of healing. Detail your gripes. When you’re ready, look at a few easy details about what might work out in your benefit. Let those details inspire you to entertain bigger and better possibilities.

My freedom from alarm clocks and khakis soon grows into the excitement that I’m free to change my career path. Liberated from your broken-down car, you meet your future life partner on the bike path. Instant lemonade: just add water.

Who knows what tomorrow might bring. Those silver linings are just starting to shine through.

8 comments

  1. Margate UK Sept 29 2010
    Hi Kristin. Margate is right on the coast in the south east corner of England. This means it is wonderful for beach walks when the sun shines and bleak when it is cold and wet with a strong wind like today. That’s when I play with the internet and see what serendipity delivers.
    This afternoon I started with a blog called Rhodia Drive which led me to Notebook Stories which led me to your blog.
    Now the afternoon is over and I’m happy. Thanks, your are an inspiration and have a wonderful way of writing. Your blogs are addictive! Well done and very best wishes … from a new ‘fan’ old enough to be your grand daddy!
    Colin

  2. Hi Colin! Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m all about positive addictions! 🙂 Margate sounds a lot like Seattle in terms of the weather. So glad you stumbled upon the site. Hope to see more of you around here soon!

  3. My brother passed away in April and I’ve been avoiding dealing with it so I though journalling might help but I can’t seem to get started, I’m afraid of where it might take me, and what other doors it might open…

    Any advice? Is it best to start with normal day-to-day journalling or jump straight in to the heavy stuff?

    • Samantha – I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. That must be devastating for you. I agree that journaling can help with grief. However, if you’re not already journaling regularly, starting with something this big might be quite difficult. I think teaming up with a good counselor could be very beneficial.

      When I was working through heavy topics, I found it helpful to schedule a therapist appointment immediately following a deep journaling session so I would have support at the ready. Everyone has their own way of handling grief, so think about what feels the safest for you.

      If you can start your day to day journaling to get in the habit and keep it relatively light for awhile, that might be a good way to start. But I often find that just sitting down with the pen and paper opens the floodgates.

      Floodgates sometimes need to be opened, but I think it’s safest to couple that catharsis with some sort of professional backup. Let me know how you decide to proceed. And I’m so sorry for your loss.

  4. Kristin, I’m sorry to hear you’re now unemployed. I’m hoping your phone will ring, and it will be Ellen de Generes’ producer asking you to be a guest on her show. You then become famous and untold wealth will result!

    Or at least you find a new job that makes you look forward to going to work.

    Leah

  5. Leah — either one of those sounds great! 😉

  6. Thanks for replying. There isn’t an English speaking counsellor where I live but as I’ve had two other deaths in the last month, I’ve found an English speaking helpline. I’m going to try journalling lightly at first and see how I go and not put any pressure on myself to write daily or anything.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for a while so it’s time to dip my toes into the journalling pool so to speak…

  7. I wish you the best as you start, Samantha. Feel free to email me with any questions that come up – I’m here to help.

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