The Day I Became Grateful for all the Bad Things that have Happened to Me

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"How should you be? You should be like a rocky promontory against which the restless surf continually pounds. It stands fast while the churning sea is lulled to sleep at its feet. 

I hear you say, 'How unlucky that this should happen to me.' But not at all.

Perhaps say instead, 'How lucky I am, that I am not broken by what has happened. And I'm not afraid of what is about to happen, for the same blow might have struck anyone, but not many who would have absorbed it without capitulation or complaint.'"

-Marcus Aurelius, The Emperor's Handbook

I first heard this quote about two years ago. Life was hard for me then. Extremely hard. I had just flunked a final exam in law school. I had money troubles. I had work troubles. I had relationship troubles. I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. I constantly worried about my uncertain future. I wondered why bad things had happened to me. What had I done to deserve them? Why was it that things seemed to be so easy for some people, but I just couldn't catch a break? 

Our lives are nothing more than millions of moments strung together. Most of them are forgotten. But a select few impact us so profoundly that they become permanently etched into our memories, where they mold us into who we are. Hearing these words for the first time became one of those moments for me. They were read aloud on a television show I was watching at the time. I was all alone in my tiny, dark apartment, during the wee hours of the morning. That time of night is the only "me time" you get when you work full time and go to school at night. Those who have done what I've done know that it quickly becomes more precious to you than sleep. 

Anyway, I remember just sitting there, absolutely dumbfounded. I rewound the show, and listened again. And then again. And again. It was in that moment that I stopped feeling sorry for myself. 

I realized that I had been looking at things completely backwards. I was feeling distraught that life was hard. I should have instead been proud that I was making it through the hard times. I should have recognized my strength for still standing, where others might have fallen. I should have been grateful for parents who raised me to be determined, and not to quit just because things get tough. Where is the value and meaning in life if everything you want comes easily? How will you ever truly appreciate what you don't work and suffer for? How can you be proud of something you didn't earn?

Life is hard. Sometimes, just when you think everything is finally under control, you get blindsided on a random Tuesday afternoon. Sometimes, you don't get the thing you think you want most in the world. Sometimes, you try your hardest and still fail. Some days, you'll say and do all the wrong things. Some days, it will feel like the world is against you. Those days suck. But they happen to everyone, and fortunately, those days will pass.

Though it's hard, I'm trying to learn to be thankful for the bad days. They clear the air and help us re-center ourselves, like a violent thunderstorm in the dead of summer. Having a bad day forces us to reflect, evaluate, and improve. It's all part of the path towards where we're meant to be. When we finally get there, we'll look back on our journey and see that the obstacles that were so painful at the time made us stronger and better-prepared for challenges we'd face further down the road. We'll have a better understanding of what really matters and what doesn't. We'll see that some of the hardest moments we endured gave birth to some of the most beautiful ones. And we will realize that we wouldn't have changed a thing, because every thing that happened led us to where we are. We will feel honored to have survived the adventure and we will feel the peace of knowing we ended up exactly where we belong.

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Thanks for reading!

1 comment

  1. "That which does not kill you, will really, really hurt"