3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Life Gets Tough

By Miranda Zelda Naiman, founder of Empower Limited and Learning Chair of EO Tanzania. 

Let’s be honest. We’ve all done it. We cross the line from humility to a dangerous, self-deprecating tone and it’s the equivalent of jumping off the back of a moving truck into a cactus bush. It serves noone—least of all you. Self-deprecation comes in all shapes and forms, but it always sits under the umbrella of belittling or devaluating yourself.

When life gets tough, that little voice in the bowels of your psyche will throw up a whole host of questions—one of which is, “why me?” This loaded (and guilt-inducing) question has the power to throw everything off kilter and spiraling downward into the darkness of depression.

Pessimists believe that life is a minefield: You never know what bomb is about to go off under your feet as you stumble through each day. Optimists, on the other hand, believe life is a field of fragrant flowers: even if a bomb were to go off under your feet, you keep crawling through the field bleeding profusely while simultaneously enjoying the floral scents around you. If you’re a realist, like me, you believe life is a botanical garden full of both exotic orchids and Venus flytraps. We admire the beauty but keep walking, even when the thorns burrow into our skin.

Three and a half years ago I watched my mother face certain death as her fragile body battle voracious cancer. The doctors predicted she had three months to live. Not once did she utter the question, “why me?” when countless others would have done so. She accepted her fate with remarkable grace, remaining positive and continuing to inspire those around her to the bitter end. Contrary to the doctors’ prognosis she survived five months. I couldn’t have prevented her death, but with any experience—good or bad—there are always lessons to be learned. Her death taught me how futile it is to be self-deprecating and that acceptance and gratitude are indelible qualities.

As such, a realist understands the complexity of life in all its glory, recognizing the value of positive moments while expecting and accepting the worst. Once you have digested that you will inevitably face some of life’s toughest challenges, you cease to ask “why me?” but instead ask yourself the following questions:

1. What is the reason this has happened? Focus on understanding the root cause of what has taken place. Is this part of a cyclical trend or a freak one-off incident? Is it something you could have prevented? If so, proceed to question 2. If not, proceed to question 3.

2. What could I have done to change the outcome? Understand how your actions contributed to the difficulty you face. Clearly pinpoint the signs you ignored, the warnings you circumvented and the steps you consciously took in the wrong direction.

3. What have I learned from this? All of life’s experiences come with clear lessons. If you had no control over the outcome, reflect on how you have been strengthened as a person and how much more prepared you will be when the next Venus flytrap confronts you.

Life can be harsh; the least you can do is be kind to yourself. Seek the lessons and cherish the orchids.

This article was originally published on 23 May 2017 on Miranda’s LinkedIn blog. It has been reprinted here with the author’s permission.

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