“I’ve never experienced adversity”
That’s what I spontaneously say when asked
How about you, has your life experience been a total joy ride?
Topic: personal growth
Conclusion: counting your blessings and learning from your lossses
Teaser: My failures
Length: 5 minutes
Sure, I was bullied in school on account of my accent, of my poor family, small house, garden and single car garage (!), the wrong clothes, Asperger’s (before it was a thing) and so on. Oh, yeah, right, I’ve had 8 concussions, two torn ACLs, a few broken bones, heartbreaking break-ups etc., but I’ve never considered any of it facing adversity. Those are just facts and stories of the past. Experiences. They hurt in the moment of course, but real adversity should entail substantial and permanent loss, without compensation, shouldn’t it?
I can continue: my big brother drowned before my eyes when I was 8, which triggered my parents’ pretty ugly divorce shortly after; but how is that my problem? Hasn’t everybody divorced or dead family members? Don’t they, if you just extend your search a little? to be clear, right there and then, seeing my parents’ reaction to their first born son taken away so unexpectedly, shook me to my core.
Living my pre-teen, formative years in the tragic vacuum he left behind, and the tension between my parents, may ex plain my reluctance to commit to meaningful relations and awkward social competence. Maybe it has some bearing on my flat interactions with my father and somewhat sporadic and disengaged socializing with my siblings. I can definitely be perceived as cold and distant, so maybe I am “damaged”. The thing is I don’t feel damaged. On the contrary, Ola’s death probably contributed to my obsession with coding, which in turn gave me intense training in logic, English, perseverence, patience, responsibility (for bugs and finding them) and grit.
Most of all grit.
– – – – – – – trigger warning, sentimental stuff
When you’re 10, 11, 12, 13 years old, frequently physically bullied in school, your parents are arguing and involved in jealous and toxic scheming and monitoring new acquaintances, you’re the smallest and youngest kid in class, the new kid on the block, with Asperger’s on top and the only one in your neighborhood coding; imagine the required grit to code, debug, test and come up with solutions all alone. Need I remind you this was in 1982-1985; there was no internet, no one to ask. Was it difficult? Yes. Was it frustrating? Definitely. Did I want to smash my 22″ cathod ray tube TV set? Oh, yes! Was I devastated when the computer crashed mid-debugging? No, I just wanted to kill myself and burn everything around me down to the ground. I don’t know what drove me; perhaps I fled from facing my brothers demise or dealing with my and my family’s loss. In any case, my new core programming, manifested as indestructible neuron highways in my brain, regarding grit, will power, logic, algebra and optimization have proven invaluable.
I used to be a troubled child, but after my brother’s passing, and the second coming (the computer), I turned into an effective, and eventually immensely appreciative, serene and happy, pattern recognizer. I can’t see how I could ever have become a better person than I am — well, according to my preferences. Consequently, none of this can be considered a bad thing.
– – – – – – – – end of croc tear rant
Professionally, I’ve had to live with a few disastrous recommendations to clients (e.g., Prosolvia went bankrupt, the stock to zero, when I had a Buy recommendation on it), not to mention loss-making investments when I was a portfolio manager (shorting bank stocks en masse in the second half of 2013 was not my smartest move; actually it was my worst ever, I think). I’ve lent out money that I never got back. I’ve invested in several start-ups that all went belly-up.
To summarize: yes, I’ve lost friends, family members, girlfriends, limbs, money and honor. I just never think of that as adversity. It just is. Later in life I’ve learned that some people keep thinking about past events and past decisions, just as some people believe all their thoughts and cede control to them. Meditation seems to help center people in the present, but for me accepting my thoughts or stilling my mind or controlling my emotions have never posed a challenge.
I’ve heard somewhere that you don’t know how strong you are until it’s your only choice. A bit dark, don’t you think? Or, is it? It’s pretty hopeful to know there probably are hidden resources that appear right when you need them, should you ever.
“You only get challenges you can (barely) handle“, goes another saying. I can’t say I agree with that one. Neither do, I imagine, many victims of violence, war and worse (murder). There’s still, however, some truth to the cliché. For moderately unwanted experiences you can choose how you frame them (it could have been worse) and how you choose to remember and deal with them and not least what you learn from them.
Today I’m exactly who I want to be.
Consequently, I wouldn’t change a single thing of my past if I could. I actually can’t see I’ve ever truly suffered, taken a real hit (street fights don’t count), or lost anything I didn’t learn more from than I paid.
What’s the worst thing I can remember that even in retrospect seems unnecessary? Maybe when my girlfriend’s old dog died. That was excruciating. No matter, it emphasized the importance of appreciating every day you get to experience with your loved ones, rather than telling me life hurts.
Why do we fall Bruce?
Once, I crashed my motorcycle in the woods and hurt my knee badly. I could say that I tore some ligaments, my right knee ACL and ruptured my meniscus and still had to walk the bike back to base, but my physician told me all that damage was already done some 8 years earlier. Actually his exact words were “13 years”, since I waited another 5 years before checking up on my increasingly unreliable knee. Anyway, lying there around April or May 2000, alone in the woods, screaming my lungs out, not even daring to look at or touch my leg, I thought “The good news is, whatever the damage, nanomedicine will sooner or later make my knee even better than the original”. Sunny disposition much?
Takeaway: love your losses — and yourself
Have you really had a tough life? Have you really experienced adversity, or are you just dwelling on the past, regretting decisions and events you had no control over?
Aren’t you a better person for all your experiences?
If not, perhaps now is the time to think about how you handle life’s little misfortunes. Why don’t you choose to learn, rather than just complain?
No investor on the stock market would blame bad luck or fret over losses in the past. They would just update their best practices list and strategy and make sure they do better next time. Life is no different, it’s an eternal cycle of trials, investing, losses, analysis, learning and improvement. Losses and “adverse” experiences are a natural and important part of the process — and the sooner the better. Logically you should love losses, since they are much more effective teachers than wins, in particular lucky windfall gains.
Man in the mirror
Aren’t you who and where you want to be?
WHY NOT? And…,
…who’s responsible for that? Either you change, or you change your mind (alternatively stay unhappy and hope for your miserable life to end as soon as possible)
CTA: By the way, how long has it been since you wrote an entry in your appreciation diary? What do you love? Who do you love? What are you doing to love life and yourself even more?
P.S. Actually, that hangover when I woke up, covered in blood, in a 3x3x3 ft (1 cubic meter) box at a gas station 15 miles from home might have been my low point.
P.P.S. No, come to think of it, when the Spanish police chased me with dogs and threatened to rip my “passaporte” to shreds unless I left the country might top the gas station incident
P.P.P.S. I almost forgot, the sleepover when I was 17, in a “house” in Amsterdam’s outskirts, built from driftwood, populated by drug addicts, that turned into a slow motion knife kerfuffle, could have ended in tears. No matter, that wasn’t even close to adversity, just an exciting experience.
Tell me again, how did I ever become a hedge fund manager? Oh, that’s right, I almost got fired even before I started on account of an interview I made between jobs back in April 2000.