It’s easy to bemoan our circumstances, isn’t it? We so often resort to the if-onlys:
If only I had more money.
If only I’d gotten that job offer.
If only I could find true love.
If only I’d landed that big client.
If-onlys are limiting because they insinuate that the thing we want, and can’t seem to have, is our one-and-only ticket to lasting happiness, success, and fulfillment - and since we don’t have it, at least not yet, we’re simply marking time. As though none of what we’re doing right now counts.
But here’s what happens while we’re marking time.
Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, celebrations. Milestones are earned. Big and small achievements are made. Steps forward are taken. Memories are created. Lessons are learned. If our major successes are the bones in the bodies of our experience, all these in-between moments - even the seemingly insignificant ones - are the meat of our lives.
And when we’re spending our time, energy, and mental bandwidth on if-onlys, we’re missing out on all that meat. We’re focusing on what we don’t yet have and neglecting to fully participate in the parts of our lives that are happening right now.
So what’s the antidote to the if-only mindset?
It’s the wisdom to understand that right now, in this very moment, you are exactly where you need to be.
Even if it’s hard. Even if it fucking sucks. Even if you can’t possibly see how your current position or circumstance will benefit you in the long run. Even then.
Over the spring, I endured what turned out to be the most severe depressive episode of my entire life. There were days - many of them - in which I couldn’t even get out of bed. My business ground to a halt, I neglected my relationships, and I struggled to believe I would ever feel like myself again.
It was horrible. But something got me through it - and it was the faith that it wasn’t going to be all for nothing. That I was in this dark period because it had a lesson to teach me. That I was ultimately going to be a better, wiser, more understanding, more impactful person because of this experience. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how. I just knew I had to believe that, in order to survive. I had to trust that I was exactly where I needed to be at the time - even though I’d rather have been anywhere else.
Now that the clouds have cleared, I can see, vividly, all the ways in which that period of terrible, soul-destroying depression was actually serving me.
1. It was a wake-up call.
I’d been operating in a state of workaholism and burnout for years, and this was my mind and body telling me, in an extreme enough way to get my attention (because I’d been ignoring the red flags), that something had to change.
2. It forced me to examine my life, my priorities, and my goals.
It was surprising to learn that I’d been setting goals for myself that I didn’t even really want - goals that were based on the shoulds of others, instead of the desires of my heart.
3. It was an opportunity to strip my schedule and my life down to the bones and rebuild everything, with an emphasis on self-care.
Let’s face it - I wouldn’t have cleared my calendar if depression hadn’t literally forced me into bed for a month. I wouldn’t have made the time to take care of myself. Instead, I would have kept operating off the same flawed paradigm, sacrificing my health for the hustle instead of prioritizing the well-being of my mind, body, and soul.
4. It allowed space for flow in my life.
At the beginning of the year, flow was my intention word - what I wanted to invite more of into my life. And up until I was stricken with depression, I hadn’t been able to call it in. Things were too busy, too hectic, too chaotic. I’d thought I needed to do more in order to allow flow into my life - more systems, more calendar skills, more something. Instead, what I really needed was to do less - and this period of depression allowed that to happen. Once I slowed down and started taking care of myself first, the flow snuck in so smoothly and naturally, I almost didn’t notice it was there at first. What a pleasant surprise to examine my life and suddenly realize that my New Year’s intention was finally taking root!
5. And last, but certainly not least, it gave me an immense sense of gratitude for the times in which I feel even halfway decent.
It’s impossible to take those moments for granted on the heels of a dark depression that’s been whispering to you that maybe it would be better if you were no longer alive. Now that I feel completely alive again, I am reminded, every day, what a gift that is.
Life is so much more than a tally of successes and failures. It’s a collection of moments - hundreds and thousands of moments - strung together to create a unique story of who we are. Each of those moments has value. Each one has merit. Each one contributes to the unique story of you - and each one has lessons to teach…if we’re open to learning them.
What hardships are you currently enduring? Maybe they’re financial, or emotional, or relational, or perhaps a combination of all those and then some. Whatever they are, is there any way you can look for the lessons in them, rather than lamenting their presence in your life? What might they be trying to draw your attention to? What are they calling you to shift or notice?
When we show up to our hardships in this way, we get so much more out of them - which often allows us to move through them more quickly in the process.
P.S. Mental health is something each and every one of us possesses on a spectrum - and our position on said spectrum can change many times throughout our lives. If you’re struggling with your mental health, I urge you to seek guidance from a licensed mental health professional. The messages I share are meant to empower and inspire, but they are in no way a replacement for comprehensive mental health care.