I want to share something personal with you. I want to talk about an experience that’s gut wrenching, motivation sapping and, in the extreme, makes you want to give up on life.
I am, of course, talking about those occasions when your heart gets broken.
Today, I’m going to tell you about 3 times this happened to me and what I learned from the experience. However, only one of these heart breaks was caused by a failed romance.
Forgive me for stretching the definition but I feel it’s necessary to encompass all the ways in which we can have our worlds turned upside down.
You see I’m hoping some of the lessons I’ve learned can help you. Right now, you might be feeling like you can’t carry on. You might be feeling like you won’t be able to love another person, or even life, again.
If that’s the case, then I want to offer relief through my insights. They may not completely remove the pain, but they might open your mind to a tomorrow where it’s possible.
Let me take you back to 1992. Still not a teenager, and recently having started a new school, I got in a fight.
This was no ordinary fight though. Prior to this scrap, I had never lost. While the fights I’d had in, and outside, my previous school had been nothing more than semi-playful tussles, I took great pride in never being defeated. In fact, you could say being a better fighter than boys my age and, occasionally older, was part of my identity.
On the day of my first defeat, though, this identity was shattered. The fight itself was a trifle. A boy from my year was pulling myself, and other kids, through the meshing of a playground fence by our school ties. It caused him great amusement and, us, annoyance, so I confidently took it upon myself to stop him.
I walked round to the other side of the fence and surprised him by setting the boy he was holding free. He then turned on me with an aggression I wasn’t prepared for. We grappled for a moment and then I found myself on the floor. At this point, the blows reigned in. I instinctively covered my face as his fists struck me around the top of my head.
And then it was over. Satisfied, he walked away and I got up. Although shocked, I wasn’t in any pain. I was more surprised than anything. In front of a sizeable part of the school, I had just lost my first fight.
The effects of this loss were immediate.
I was silent on the school bus and felt incredibly awkward when I got home. It was as if I’d gone to school a man and returned an emasculated shadow.
This uneasiness stayed with me over the next few weeks and then crystallised with a change in personality. From being brave, and always ready to stand up for myself, I slowly turned into a coward who shunned challenges.
A rematch was offered against my assailant by his friends. I declined. Then, whenever I encountered him on the school grounds, I avoided him or joined a separate queue. As I progressed through the school, in situations where I should have stood up for myself, I shied away.
What I Learned:
Although it would be inaccurate to describe this experience as a ‘heart break’, it had a similar impact. My world got turned upside down and, sadly, there was no immediate lesson I learned to enable me to bounce back stronger.
Instead, all I offer is a warning. Whether dealing with physical confrontation, competition or, more likely, the many trials that life presents, there is no shame in being defeated. What you absolutely must not do, though, is allow yourself to become less willing to face challenges because of the experience.
Down this path lies a loss of self-respect. Far worse to suffer twenty beat downs and still can look at yourself in the mirror, than cower your way through life, limiting your actions for fear of reprisals or what might go wrong.
For me, I’m certain that shying away from confrontation, caused by the loss of the fight, contributed towards a hesitancy in taking bold action for many years to come.
Let’s move on to 2006. This time I can offer you a story of genuine heartbreak.
At the age of 26, I hadn’t had a girlfriend, date, kiss, hug or any kind of warmth or intimacy from the opposite sex in seven very long years. However, my fortunes started to change as I began dating a girl who initially came to see me for tennis lessons.
It didn’t take long before I fell in love. Her beauty, femininity, mysteriousness, and, it must be said, my lack of romance for a very long time, formed a heady cocktail that enraptured my senses.
Despite the strength of my feelings, though, our romance was embryonic. No sooner had we started seeing each (a matter of weeks), than she called it off.
There complications with her ex, she told me. I didn’t understand. How, after so many years of rejection and loneliness, could I come so close to grasping the love I longed for above all else, and then suddenly have it taken away?
It’s not fair, I told myself. Someone’s playing a joke on me.
It was no joke though. It was real and I had to accept it.
The problem was, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to focus on moving forwards. I’d lost my appetite for any kind of struggle.
What I Learned:
This experience taught me that obsessive love is unhealthy. Make one object, even if that object be a person very dear to you, the absolute centre and fulcrum of your life, and you’re heading for a fall. You can’t rely on other people as the sole source of your love and happiness because they can always be taken away from you. Instead, you must learn to build part of it from within.
My book won’t sell! It’s 2012, I’ve just spent four and a half years pouring my soul into my life’s work, and nobody is interested in buying it.
It’s galling enough that I have to sell it for less than a cup of coffee, can’t I be spared the humiliation of seeing a big fat zero under my sales figures when I check every Monday on Amazon?
Apparently not. It seems life doesn’t care about how hard I’ve worked. It doesn’t give much of a damn about how noble my intentions are either. The project I thought would be my vehicle to having a real and positive impact on people’s lives is failing to sell a single copy.
How do I deal with this?
Strangely enough, I don’t fall apart. Yes, I despair. Yes, I feel heartbroken at the effort I’ve put in for so little return. And no, I can’t even contemplate the thought of picking myself up and redoubling my efforts. However, something inside reminds me that I’ve been here before.
By now I’ve been tested. I’ve been battle hardened and I realise that even though my heart has temporarily been broken, my life is not over.
I still have chances. In fact, I have multiple chances to learn, grow and improve. Facing another massive rejection doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not good enough. It just means there’s more I need to learn and do to achieve the outcome I desire.
I also learn that I can make myself successful. Before I published my book, I thought it’s success was out of my hands. People either accept or reject it. However, 6 months into the process of promoting my book through blog posts and guest posts, YouTube videos, social media and speaking, I realise that I can make a dent in its success.
Although I put in way more than I get out, I can see the snow ball slowly growing. And the only reason it is, is me.
This is an interesting lesson. I have confirmation that the fulfilment of my hearts desires lies in my own hands.
For each heart break, I’ve recalled lessons that were specific to that incident. I now want to finish with a cohesive point.
I believe the main reasons I’ve been able to bounce back from these heart breaks (and many more) is that I’ve never lost my capacity to love or believe in good.
This is the most powerful act of defiance I can take against the disappointments I’ve experienced. To say to them, “You will not break me. You will not turn me into a twisted cynic or turn me away from the dreams I hold dear in my heart,” enables you to learn the lesson that each one of your heart breaks provides and grow stronger from the experience.
(image taken from Suzanne Schrocter photostream flickr.com)
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