“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
My life has been a story of highs and lows. What I’ve learned is that while you can’t control what happens, what you can control is your attitude and what you do to respond and recover.
Everything was fabulous in my life. I was working for the motivational speaker, Tony Robbins. A friend fixed me up with a man with whom I then had 3 ½ hour phone conversation. He told the friend that if I were remotely cute, he thought he would marry me. We met about a month and a half later and he tried to propose after the first week. I thought he was crazy, but long story short, we married ten months after we met. We were madly in love and happily married. We had our first child, a little boy, the love of my life. We had bought and renovated a new home, and all was well. The dream life seemed to be coming true. Until it got disrupted.
One night, my husband didn’t return home on time and I became worried—my worst fears were realized when the police came to my door in the middle of the night to tell me my husband had died in a car accident. It was devastating, and nothing prepares you for a shock like this. All the goals and plans we had together– everything I thought I was going to share with someone else, had been taken away. The realization that nothing was going to be the same again was overwhelming and could have been paralyzing. Fortunately for me, after having worked with Tony Robbins, and coaching others for thousands of hours, I had a lot of emotional skills and tools to use to cope. I recognized I didn’t have any control over what life had thrown at me but I could steer the road ahead, talk myself into a more resourceful state and create a compelling future for my two- year old child and myself.
I remember people remarking that I seemed to be doing well, and I told them that my son had just lost his father, he certainly wasn’t going to lose his mother as well. We can have our emotions, and we need to work our way through them, but it is different from your emotions “having you.” Of course, it was OK to be upset sometimes, but ultimately, I had to wash my face, put on my makeup, and get on with my day and my life. To this day, my son and I use the expression “don’t let it cost you a day.” We don’t know how many days we have so we must find something to be grateful for every day. We must make the decision that you want your life to still be fulfilling and happy.
The difficulties didn’t end: I lost my mother, my strongest support system, to a long battle with cancer, and the financial crisis in 2008 led to financial calamity of my own. In the space of a few years, I had lost my husband, my mother and financial stability. I knew I had to tap deeper into myself and find more strength.
My son and I lived in 16 different places in 14 years. We went through a lot of change, but it taught us to be resilient. We learned the only thing we control is our attitude. As a result, I’m much more at ease than some people with things changing around me. People spend a lot of time trying to find certainty outside themselves, but it isn’t possible. The only investment that really counts is to spend time building up our own self-confidence and inner certainty.
During my personal financial crisis, I suddenly needed to get a job and realized the best way to a new job was through relationships I had. I began calling people and proposed ideas, saying “this is what I’d like to do and how I can add value.” It took less than two weeks to get my first job, and two weeks the next time. Every job I’ve gotten in the last 20 years has come from people I’ve known; I understood and leveraged the power in the relationships I had built throughout my life. I always try to give people more than they expect and my experience shows that it pays off. People were receptive and eager to help me. I’ve worked in many marketing and consulting positions over the years am now drawing on my Tony Robbins training to coach senior level executives in a private practice, Mindset Partnership. Even this phase of my professional life has evolved in a “word of mouth” manner, as clients recommend me to their peers.
One of the lessons I learned the hard way over the years, is that I was often so busy trying to help others that I hadn’t taken care of myself. Just as we are supposed to put on the oxygen mask first before helping others on a plane, we need to do that in other aspects of life. There is a story about a man going to see the Prophet Mohammed and asking, “Should I have faith in Allah or shackle my camels?” Mohammed says you must do both.
There were times in my life when I didn’t pay enough attention to my needs and had a lot of faith in things just working out—I didn’t “shackle my camels.” Yes, follow your joy, your bliss, but also be practical and smart! Take care of yourself first. I think women often put themselves second, or even last, while trying to take care of everyone else. We also distract ourselves by doing things for other people. It gives us a noble excuse for not doing what we need to do for ourselves. There was a time I was doing so much for others and everyone loved me, but I neglected to look at my bank statement or the scale!
In my role as a coach, I teach people that when they are trying to make changes, they need to look hard at themselves to make sure they are ready. People talk about wanting to live their “missions” or “passions.” I work with them to make the change thoughtfully and strategically, so they can achieve results without letting the rest of the wheels fall off.
Start with small changes. If your passion is painting, but you’re a social worker and not painting at all, begin by painting one day a week. Then, take a painting class. Perhaps eventually you will sell a painting or more. Or maybe you will incorporate art into your social work as a therapeutic tool. People get caught up in one way of doing something and lose sight of the fact that there are many ways to achieve a goal.
After all the ups and downs, I can say I am living a happy, fulfilled life. My son is now a resilient and productive 25-year-old. Even with the strange times we find ourselves in with the current pandemic, I feel optimistic about what will come next, that it might even be better than the earlier part of my life. On days when I feel less so, I look down at my toes, onto which I paint flowers, and smile. Perhaps this time at home will help us slow down and realize that little things in a day can bring joy. We can think about small changes that may lead to larger transformations ahead.
For more on Joelle’s work: Mindsetpartnership.com.
You may also like: