This morning I was flipping through a couple of old journals, looking for something I’d written. Around ten years ago, after reading a book called The Path, I’d written a personal mission statement about the work I wanted to do in the future. I’d also written a vision of what a day in my life might be like five years in the future.
Although I hadn’t read that journal entry for quite some time, I knew that my life had come very close to what I had hoped it would become. In that entry, I’d talked about facilitating leadership retreats and having my first book published. I also mentioned my hopes of having a regular column published. (I didn’t know about blogs at the time, so I was thinking purely traditional publishing – but this is just fine too.)
This is the mission statement I wrote: “It is my mission to inspire excellence in people, to facilitate personal growth and the discovery of gifts, and to serve as a catalyst for positive change.” Sounds like what I do now, right?
At the time, though, my paid work was quite far out of alignment with that mission statement. I was in a job that made me miserable and that had very little to do with my giftedness. I was the primary communicator for a high security federal laboratory, dealing with the media on the latest health scare – SARS, West Nile, Mad Cow Disease, etc., and working as part of a management team that was full of toxic energy.
What I didn’t realize until I looked back into my journal, was that I managed to write that mission statement and vision for my life at the darkest time of my life. It’s painful to read the journal entries from that year. At the beginning of the year, I ended my maternity leave for my third daughter and returned to my miserable job, worried that this might be all there would be to my life. As soon as I got back to work, SARS hit in Toronto, which meant that I was suddenly on call to media from all over the world twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. (I remember the phone ringing in my pocket in church on Easter morning.) Exhausted from motherhood and emotionally and spiritually shut down from a job that killed my spirit and drained every bit of my energy, all I could do in my journal was weep and moan.
Then it got worse. In August of that year, my dad was killed in a tragic farm accident. It suddenly felt like the ground had been ripped out from under my feet and I was in free-fall. The first journal entry after dad died is short and in tiny handwriting – like I’d shrunken and no longer knew how to speak.
It kept getting worse. Two weeks after dad died, my uncle died very suddenly while on a camping trip. Two months later, my grandma died. In the middle of all of that grief, Mom wanted to move off the farm, so we had to sort through all of their lifetime’s worth of belongings, hold an auction sale, sell the farm, and move Mom into an apartment. Mom was an emotional mess, so on top of trying to be a half-decent parent to my small kids, and trying to hold together a demanding job, I was trying (with my siblings) to be her emotional support.
Somewhere in the middle of all of that, I started to dream of something different. I think I was desperate for some pinpoint of light in the middle of all that darkness. My mission statement and journal entry were written not long after grandma died, when the bad had gotten worse, and when I was afraid to answer the phone because every phone call seemed to report another death.
I’m not sharing this story to depress you, but to give you some measure of hope. If you’re in the middle of the darkness, keep looking for those points of light. Keep dreaming that some day, it might get better. Keep daring to believe in hope.
Thankfully, the next year things started to shift. I left the government for a non-profit job that excited me, and nobody close to me died for several years.
It’s not a straight path to “better”. It’s a bumpy, curvy one, and having gone through another really bad year last year (when mom died, Marcel had a heart attack, and I broke my foot), I have to be honest and say that this will not be your only bad year.
But it does get better, again and again. This Spring has been full of hope and light for me again. I’m doing work I absolutely love. Just over a week ago, I hosted a women’s retreat and this coming weekend, I’ll be guest speaker at another retreat. In between, I’ve been teaching classes, coaching clients, and hosting conversations with deep meaning and purpose. My daughters are happy and healthy and growing into beautiful young women. My marriage is in a more solid place than it’s been in the past. I am content. Life is good.
Life hasn’t turned out exactly as I’d hoped (too many people have died), but I am doing the work that I dared to hold out a vision for, and I have found happiness slowly beginning to grow out of grief, again and again.
And… what I know for certain is that I couldn’t be doing this work as effectively as I do if I didn’t know what darkness feels like.
And that, my friends, is what I hope for you. Look for light, and let the darkness change you. If you feel like giving up hope, if you’ve waited far too long for the lights to come back on, I want to encourage you to hang on just a little longer. You will grow stronger from your time of darkness and the strength will prepare you for the light.
Sit down and write your mission statement and your vision for a day five years from now. It might take ten years to get there (as mine did), but with intention and a stubborn commitment to hope, things will shift and you will head toward that which calls you.
Don’t give up. Carry on. Be faithful to your vision and your hope. It does get better.
If you want to write your way through the darkness or through the light, consider joining the next Openhearted Writing Circle on June 27.
If you’re looking for a companion on the bumpy, curvy path, check out Pathfinder.