Many of us experience moments in our lives that shock us, scare us, change us, catch us by surprise, leave us feeling lost, or change our lives entirely. These experiences can happen in an instant, where a moment in time causes our life to change, or sometimes a series of events occur, and our life completely turns in a different direction. We are left feeling helpless, confused, and even angry because oftentimes we didn’t invite this change and we certainly didn’t wish for it. These life experiences are called different things: Accidents, problems, stress, emotional breakdowns, among other terms. The connotation is mostly negative because we often see the unknown attached with change as an unwelcome, undesirable thing. We reject it because we don’t know it; we don’t like it because we didn’t choose it.
What if our perception of these events is skewed? What if, all along, we’ve been assigning a negative label to the onset of one of the greatest gifts we are given in life? What if life isn’t slapping us in the face when events happen to us are momentarily difficult, sad, hard, or scary? What if change, in it’s most unwelcome and even horrible form, is a breakthrough? Have we been conditioned to reject a series of life events that come to us, not to destroy us, but to save us from a mundane life, from sameness, from predictability, from smothering our potential by walking down the same path forever?
The cycle of life, as we know it, involves birth, life, and then death, but talk to anyone who has experienced a breakthrough and they will likely tell you about the emotional, spiritual, and physical changes they underwent. It is possible we have breakthroughs in our lives in order to have the opportunity to start anew, to shed the life, the activities, and the experiences of our past and start a new series of events to make up our future. We are reborn during a breakthrough; we are shaped and made stronger, more intelligent, and more insightful. We let goof (or lose) what doesn’t serve our lives anymore.
Maybe accidents, problems, stress, or emotional breakdowns are not as unpredictable as they might feel. Practically everyone goes through them with many people telling their story of struggle, survival, self-renewal, and especially, of gratitude for the process. A breakthrough has a cyclical nature that can be broken down into rather predictable steps; the contents and the meaning, however, are unique and yours.
Step 1: The Inoculation
There is discomfort in a breakthrough, discomfort in the form of varying degrees of physical and emotional pain. The discomfort sometimes comes quickly and suddenly because in order to experience a true breakthrough we must get used to being uncomfortable, to being blind to what will happen next, and to gradually be able to reach a state of equilibrium despite the sudden change of events in our lives. This step is what many people call rock bottom: It is failure, loss, or despair, but just as with anything physically uncomfortable or even painful, we develop tolerance and even immunity, we get stronger from it through mere, sudden exposure.
Step 2: Mourning
The mourning period is a sort of plateau after the initial shock and shift of change. You are trying to get used to new events, life situations, and feelings, but are rejecting the change at the same time. People in this stage often wish they had their old life back; the predictable life where they (purportedly) knew what was going to happen tomorrow and they believed to be able to control the series of events in their lives. The mourning period also comes with a dose of reality where you may understand and come to terms with the fact you won’t get your old life back and you will need to adjust and make plans for this new life, your new reality.
Step 3: Getting Back Up
There is a certain characteristic all humans have (whether they believe they have it or not) and our very existence is proof we have this characteristic within us, which is our ability to adapt. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors faced numerous adversities and those who survived passed on the ability to adapt down to us, which is why we are here today. We have the ability to survive imprinted in our DNA. Nowadays, adversity comes in different forms, but we must face it nonetheless, which is why after we suffer defeat, we mourn, and after we mourn, something else happens: We move on. In moving on after change, we begin to think of ways to adapt to the new norms in our lives. This step also introduces thoughts, ideas, and renewed creativity. The shock and mourning period can cause us to feel mentally and emotionally drained, leaving us essentially devoid of the ability to think of the next step. However, when we begin to recover, we start to think of ways to make the most out of the current circumstance. This provides us with motivation and especially with hope, and we begin to wonder if the initiation of the breakthrough (i.e., the accident, problem, stressor, emotional break down) has the potential to serve a greater purpose, a function to enhance our life. Goals are set, and steps are taken towards building a new life and a new way of living.
Step 4: Making Sense of Change and Taking Action
If there is one step epitomizing a breakthrough, it is the step where you realize why your life took such a drastic turn and best of all; you’re glad it did. You feel all of the pain, difficulty, suffering, and torment were worth it and you can make sense of the life-changing events that transpired. In this step, you are taking action towards rebuilding your life and the new, stronger version of yourself. You are achieving your goals and creating new ones, with the bar set higher each time you accomplish an objective. You still face intermittent stress, pain, and difficulty, but you have developed a resistance against such life events only this process could have given you.
Step 5: Looking Back with Gratitude, Looking Forward with Anticipation
In your conversations with others, in your personal thoughts, and in your memories, you will always cite this breakthrough as ‘the time when you’re life changed for the better.’ You look back at the months or years (the time frame varies from person to person) of transition you went through and you are both amazed and profoundly grateful. You now feel like you can do anything, handle anything, because you were able to survive what you once thought impossible. Challenging yourself becomes a continuous part of life, not because you don’t fear anymore, but because you can feel fear and move forward with courage and hope.
We are not accustomed to getting excited about change, for problems and stressors and defeat and failure, but these are the signs of an impending breakthrough. Your life will shut down before a breakthrough only to light up brighter and stronger. Rather than dread or fear the supposed unpredictability of change, we should wish for it, as change is what brings joy to our lives and what provides us with the greatest and deepest meaning we’ve ever known.