Finding The Upside When Life Is Upside Down

In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity. ~ Albert Einstein

I had a rocky year last year. I suspect a lot of readers are nodding in agreement; you may have had a tough one, as well. Well, one element of life we can certainly take for granted is that we’re going to hit roadblocks on our journey. And when riding a rough patch, it can be impossible to see how anything about the situation could ever turn out well. Am I right?

Finding the upside whn life is upside down

Image by Ibrahim Iujaz

Well, it’s true at first, anyway. But when I look back, I recognize events threaded through the past I initially judged as “bad,” which turned out to be good … maybe even the best possible outcome. We’ve all found ourselves at one time or another in possession of a true gift that came disguised as something awful.

That’s why we have to train ourselves to look for the upside every time our life is upside down.

For example, can you can remember a time a Good Samaritan helped you out when you were in need? Perhaps someone came along during a difficult stretch and restored your faith, and it changed the course of your life for the better. Chances are in hindsight you see how an awful breakup taught you something you critically needed to learn.

There are upsides to nearly every down, if we’re willing to look for them.

Reality check #1: Yes, you can look for a silver lining
If we want to have, do, or become more than we are, we must cultivate the ability to navigate loss, fear, and challenge, and not only find the strength to continue, but have faith that something great will come.

It’s the “every cloud has a silver lining” approach. We need to learn to search for the opportunity in every setback.

Reality check #2: Our choices affect the outcome
We have the ability to adjust the way we respond to obstacles and setbacks. Believe it or not, we judge the meaning of many uncomfortable situations and experiences. We decide if something is good or bad and react negatively or positively.

We have the power to choose how we proceed in most situations, and our decisions affect the outcome. When obstacles arise, we can decide the situation is hopeless and wallow in our misery. We can give up on our dreams because we believe that success is impossible under the circumstances.

Or, we can remember that anything is possible, and resolve to strengthen and renew our commitment to succeed. Whatever the choice, it will determine our chances, the course of action, and the results. The difference between success and failure may have little to do with what is actually happening and everything to do with our assessment and response.

Empire State Pigeon

Image by ZeroOne

Reality check #3: Change your perspective and the result may also change
“When you change the way you look at things, the way things look starts to change.”

So step back and change perspectives. View the scenario from a different angle; shift your decision about its merit. What if there is another way to consider the situation? What if we decide to define the event in a way that provides the best opportunity for success? We might explore new possibilities we never would have considered if the obstacle hadn’t thrown itself in our path.

The takeaway? The quality and direction of our lives is determined just as much by how we react to what happens as it is by what actually happens. That’s great news, because it means we have control over how we perceive every person, event, and circumstance that comes our way.

It’s about re-training our habitual patterns of thought. Try this: Every time something seems “bad,” forget the disappointment and list benefits that could result. And yes, again, when in the middle of something awful, it’s hard to imagine how it could ever turn out to be good in any way. Just try.

It requires trust. We have to have conviction. Faith and fear cannot exist together. Be patient, keep an open heart, and hold on to the belief that only good will come.

Winston Churchill’s advice was to turn stumbling blocks into strengths and stepping stones. He said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Our reaction to setbacks is what defines us as individuals who either persevere and succeed, or give up and fail.

Writing prompt/Exercise:
There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. ~ Richard Bach, Illusions

• List the five worst things that have happened to you in the past. Now list at least one good thing that came of each.
• List the five worst situations in your current life. Now list five possible positive outcomes.
• List five difficult circumstances you may face that have’nt happened yet. Now list five worst-case scenarios for each potential event. Shift your perspective and act as if each situation you wrote about was good, not bad. Now list five potential fabulous outcomes for each one.
• Take it one step farther and make a list of people who could help make the best-case outcomes happen. List what you need to learn, who you need to reach out to, and what you need to acquire or let go of to help these scenarios become reality.
• Write a set of action steps that will get you there. Add these as possibilities to your daily action step commitments.

Readers, leave a comment and share about the times you’ve found a silver lining!

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Images: Creative Commons License Ibrahim Iujaz, Creative Commons License ZeroOne

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21 Responses to Finding The Upside When Life Is Upside Down

  1. Victor Perez September 16, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    Molly… Thanks for this post. Just what I needed… the advice is useful and timely as I’m reflecting over the passing of my mom 2 months ago. Victor

    • Molly Greene September 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

      Victor, I’m so sorry for your loss. That’s surely a tough situation to find the upside in — bad English, but you know what I mean. Thinking of you!

  2. Anne R. Allen September 16, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Great pep talk. Just what I needed to read right now. Life seems to be raining catastrophes at the moment, but I need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Thanks for the upbeat message!

    • Molly Greene September 16, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

      My pleasure, Anne. I bet we could both do with a 2-week vacation in Tahiti, eh?

  3. Robyn Jones September 16, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Great post, Molly. When the well is dry and I can’t see past the bad stuff I use my old author fallback, “I have new material to write about, there’s that.”

  4. Debby Gies September 16, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

    There you go Molly! You see, that’s what I was saying to you about the universe guides us. An old saying, ” When one door closes, another one opens”. This is what we talked about last week. The glass half full! Just lovely and happy to share. 🙂

    • Molly Greene September 17, 2013 at 10:17 am #

      I agree Debby, the Universe guides us when we allow it to. I notice that when I’m busy crying in my soup, it’s hard for the powers that be to get a message through!

  5. Laura Zera September 16, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    Molly Greene, you kick butt. As for me, I think the biggest silver lining I’ve found has been to realize that my traumatic childhood with a mother who has schizophrenia has given me a wellspring of compassion I might not otherwise have had. I’ve become grateful for the perspective it’s given me, too.

    • Molly Greene September 17, 2013 at 10:16 am #

      Laura Zera, you kick butt, too. You are my hero in the silver-lining approach. Love you!

      • Cindy April 4, 2014 at 6:18 am #

        Laura, what Molly said!

  6. Norah September 17, 2013 at 3:50 am #

    Hi Molly,
    I’m sorry to hear that you had a rocky year last year, but am pleased that you have strategies and a positive attitude to help you overcome the hurdles.
    A very unexpected silver lining I heard about recently was the possibility of doctors finding a cure for leukemia in HIV – now I never thought anything good would come out of that!
    Keep sharing – I love reading and learning from your blog!

    • Molly Greene September 17, 2013 at 10:13 am #

      Thank you for the kind words, Norah. That puts it in perspective, doesn’t it? Any troubles I may have will pass, and that’s my silver lining!

  7. Laura Hedgecock September 17, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    Great insight Molly. I love it. Want to do a guest post?

    • Molly Greene September 17, 2013 at 10:12 am #

      Thank you so much for the invitation Laura, but my plate is full right now. Maybe next year!

  8. Kat Kennedy September 17, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    Great post! This seems to have been “that year” for so many of us as the comments and events in my friends lives have reflected. I lost my beautiful niece who had stroke shortly after giving birth to her third child it was an eight month ordeal and one we struggle with. What I would like to share with your readers is something her pastor said at her funeral last month. Misty had a smile that lit up the room. She always left whoever she saw, friend or stranger, feeling better than they did before they saw her. Would that we would all aspire to leave such a legacy.

    • Molly Greene September 17, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

      Thank you so much for this, Kat. Yes, that would be the ultimate legacy and adds perspective to my simple troubles. We’re so deeply sorry for your loss.

      • Kat Kennedy September 17, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

        Thank you, Molly. We all have our struggles. I think for us it was such a blessing to have someone share that aspect if her life who knew her and made us all realize that we all can choose to make a difference in each others lives in little kindnesses. Thanks for your kind words. Keep at it. I’m getting back into a routine now and writing is going well. Love the support of fellow writers and bloggers and thanks for your openness in sharing on your blog!

        • Molly Greene September 17, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

          My pleasure, Kat. Best to you as you move forward!

  9. Kristal Zacharias September 26, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Molly: First-time “commentor,” long-time follower. Loved the message in this post. The silver lining in something that was a bad experience, which actually turned out rather good…we had a big water leak in our home, and my dryer broke almost simultaneously. As I hung clothes in my backyard and took cold showers for approximately two months, I felt inconvenienced – but I mostly felt grateful. Now, my hot showers and clean, dry clothes have returned, and they never felt so good! I am grateful.

    • Molly Greene September 26, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

      Hi Kristal! I’m happy for you that your challenge is over. Your comment about cold showers and gratitude hits home, as I’ve lived in the mountains for over a decade and we almost regularly lose power or water, sometimes both. It’s annoying and inconvenient, and it’s also THE vehicle that keeps me from taking those everyday things for granted. I’ve learned a lot about making do and getting by, and I am also grateful when the utilities are restored!! There’s nothing better than clothes warm from the dryer, is there? Best to you in all you do and thanks so much for your lovely comment!

  10. Cindy April 4, 2014 at 6:28 am #

    Molly, Sorry to hear about your bad year. It’s been awhile since I had a bad year, but I recently had a very bad week and now it’s turned into two weeks. Or more like three. Im working on the “silver lining” and the gifts this sad event brought. So far, I can say that I have learned something important about boundaries & letting go. That’s the only take away so far, learning what NOT to take for granted in future. I think when all the hurt and emotional turmoil has passed through, I will be a better person for it. Stronger. More able to handle and absorb the sadnesses in life that are beyond my control. I keep learning the same thing over and over again: we cannot control what others think, say, and do. And some people will misunderstand me, dislike me, make negative comments about me, want distance from me, and I have to be okay with that. Because I only control the universe in my novels, not in real life:)