There are certain people in the world who, for lack of any other words, are just bad!@#$%. Aaron Reistad is one of those people. I am lucky to call him a friend. You are lucky because he agreed to write a ridiculously awesome guest post this week.
A cross-fit athlete, serial adventurer, and graduate student, Aaron had a “normal” life. Then, in a month, he became legally blind. What you’re about to read is his advice for overcoming setbacks on your way to finding and living your purpose.
People always ask me, “How do I live and lead with purpose when things go wrong?” Well, if you’ve ever wondered that, read Aaron’s story below. And when you’re done, make sure to check out his website and follow his blog. You’ll be happy you did.
One month I was leading a normal life. The next, I was legally blind.
One of my favorite movies of all time is Coach Carter. The true story of a high school basketball team from a rougher area of town, and their basketball coach who refuses to hold the men to anything but the highest standard. During the movie, one of the athlete’s cousins is shot and killed during a drug deal. This player, Cruz, is an athlete who is passionate about the sport, but more stubborn than the rest when it comes to their coach’s rules as evidenced by his choice to quit the team twice. This shooting, combined with Cruz pushing his teammates, coach, and sport away, forces him to recognize that he has lost everything which gave him his identity.
In his darkest moment, he turns to his coach and begs to be allowed to rejoin the team. One of the most memorable moments of the movie is when Cruz rises from the ashes and delivers a powerful speech to his teammates and coach. He quotes Marianne Williamson as he relates,
“It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
It is inevitable that at one and most likely at many points in your life you have felt inadequate in both major and minor ways. Leading up to these moments, we feel as though our purpose in life is clear with no foreseeable obstacles in our way on our path to greatness. But then, something happens and the perfect plan for us and our lives is flipped upside down. I truly believe that these moments are the most crucial and identity forming times in someone’s life. For it is in our moments of inadequacy where our purpose feels gone. That we are forced to answer one of the most difficult questions “Who am I?”
I agree with Williamson’s idea of our greatest fear being that we are powerful beyond measure, but more firmly believe that we are only able to truly understand our power through feeling inadequate.
I believe more often than not this fear of our greatness grabs a hold of us and limits our true purpose. The moments where you feel as though you have lost all purpose in life are the most crucial moments you will ever have. These are the moments of fight or flight; the opportunities to thrive or merely survive. These moments are what can be pointed to when prompted to define one’s character. But do not get me wrong, these “moments” are not split second decisions, but rather a series of choices which last your entire lifetime.
One of my favorite quotes is,
“Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”
I believe this quote is great when life is seemingly normal, and all problems seem manageable with the right attitude. Along with this, this quote is great after you have overcome an obstacle which, at the time, seemed un-formidable.
But in the heat of battle, when facing an enemy you are not fully confident in defeating, is when this quote is difficult to live by. I am someone who has gone through having a seemingly normal life, from having 20/20 vision one month and being legally blind the next, to learning how to overcome despite the circumstances.
I am hoping to give advice on finding your purpose in the moments when you feel like there is no purpose for you based on my lived experiences.
1. Recognize that the Stages of Grief exist and take time.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Grief model relates the five stages of emotional grief one goes through following the death of someone intimate. These stages are not linear and include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. My advice for those going through a moment where all purpose seems lost is not to be optimistic and know that you will one day hopefully move into the stage of acceptance. Rather, my advice is to recognize that this model is applicable when navigating any traumatic event. Simply recognizing that the anger you are feeling towards your current status in life is normal and expected for someone going through a hard time will assist in navigating the path towards discovering your purpose. The first four stages is what will be the backbone and foundation behind the passion felt for your newly formed purpose. But these stages take time, and when acceptance is reached, so will be a greater perspective on life and oneself.
2. Ask for help.
One of the greatest faults made by humans in our society today is the belief that the weight of your problems are yours to bear and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. For me, asking for help does not mean you are weak, it means you are strong enough to admit the community is stronger than the individual. This belief is true both during the happiest of times as well as the times where your purpose seems lost. Asking for help when times are great will not only make it easier to do so when times could be better, but will also establish a tightly bonded group to serve as support during these times. Help can come in many forms. Counseling, family, friends, co-workers, and complete strangers have all helped me when the weight of my burden was too large to take on myself. Through allowing others to assist you in taking some of the weight off your back you will have an easier time moving through the stages and ultimately finding your purpose.
3. Surround yourself with quality people.
When times get rough, it becomes very apparent who your true friends are. Forming and maintaining quality relationships when all is well, will ensure you are not alone when the unexpected occurs. Sir Isaac Newton stated, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In order to see further and discover what your purpose is, surround yourself with giants, for greatness is not accomplished alone.
4. Set a solid foundation.
Often times, the moments where we begin to question what our purpose is, begins with an alteration between what is concretely guaranteed in life and what is an expected change. For me, I believed my sight was concretely guaranteed to never change. When it did, I lost all understanding of what my purpose was. This change in status looks different for everyone, but the commonality, no matter the change, is that it will be difficult. This difficulty lies in the fact that change is uncomfortable, and an unexpected change, be it large or small, is even more uncomfortable. Building your life upon a foundation, which when the storms come, will shake your house but not let it wash away.
5. The only thing constant in life is change.
Change in your life is inevitable. The purpose for which you are living your life should be flexible too. Your current purpose is informed by the experiences you have had thus far in your life. Although when moments occur where the purpose you previously believed in force you to question if there is any purpose at all, these moments are just a larger experience which will serve to form an even deeper purpose for your life. During the times where your purpose seems lost, being open to discovering what your new purpose is will allow for you to not live a life despite your circumstances, but rather a life informed by your circumstances.
Read more about Aaron’s story at www.AaronReistad.com