“Worsts” Help Us Find Our “Bests”
Like many of you, today I am pausing to reflect on the year behind me and the year ahead. Swirling in my head are moments from the last twelve months, some of which are so beautiful I can’t believe they happened, and others of which are so ugly I won’t allow myself to dwell too long. Some are unique to me, and some are those that we shared as a society, as a generation, and as humans.
I faced profound personal challenges in 2016. After injuring my knee in May, only receiving the correct diagnosis in July, and undergoing surgery in August, I have spent the last seven months rebuilding my strength. Beyond the physical pain of incisions in my bones, beyond the focused persistence required to regain muscles and movement, the most difficult part was finding emotional wherewithal to embrace the challenge and remain optimistic.
I know I wasn’t alone.
Our world, like me, is currently hobbling around with one weak leg. Things feel topsy-turvy, or to use Merriam-Webster’s word of the year, things feel surreal.
But maybe unlike many of you, and definitely unlike The Internet, I am not “so over” 2016. While it certainly has its shortcomings, I don’t know that it was the “worst year ever.” It certainly wasn’t my worst.
I experienced my share of challenges in the years leading up to this one—being mugged in 2013, my dog’s death in 2014, and family struggles in 2015 to name a few. While each felt like rock bottom at the time, I always managed to find a way to climb back up (even if it sometimes meant falling again, and harder). However, now with perspective, none feels any less or more challenging than any other.
The only difference between prior years and this one is that I am looking back differently. The patterns show me that there are going to be highs and lows in every year. The lows don’t necessarily mark a bad year, but only the continual ebb and flow of life. The absence of this pulse, rather than being a good sign, may instead be a sign that I am not living. It is with this recognition that I’m entering 2017.
If I search for them, there are streams of light in each of those significantly challenging years—publishing a book in 2013, adventures with a best friend in 2014, and getting a long-desired job offer in 2015— that are just as momentous as the dark patches.
This year’s challenge is as dark as it was light. Injury was good for me. It taught me how to listen to my body, how to reject routine in a healthy fashion, and how to manage my stress in new ways. It reminded me of the strong support I have in my family and friends. It pushed me to go deeper with my writing and to explore new activities.
Essentially, it taught me to accept the unexpected and embrace the act of regaining balance.
Whether we are responding to acts of terror, democratic outcomes, personal health issues, or one of life’s many other obstacles, we always have two choices: to rebuild weak muscles or to commiserate over inevitable atrophy. This year, I felt first-hand the benefits of the former. The latter leaves us to fester in unproductive masses of incredulity and hyperbole.
Join me. Let’s go forward by accepting that highs don’t exist without lows, and to achieve balance amidst it all.