"Better to be a dog in times of tranquility
than a human in times of chaos."
-- traditional Chinese proverb
“May you live in interesting times.” The phrase is often attributed to being a Chinese curse. For those who feel bored and sedate, the idea of having interesting times might hold a spark of interest. But for those of us who have endured relationship collapse, job loss, financial trauma, and the thousand lashes of anxiety of modern life, we might dream of being that placid dog on a hearth-mat in front of a gently crackling fire.
Interesting times, indeed.
Life was never laid out to be fair. We only have to look to the cancer wards overflowing with children, or the food banks stretched with weary lines, to understand that life abounds with misery and upheaval. Nearly every one of us is blindsided at some point in our lives. Some of us endure more than our fair share.
We have to persevere.
There are only two real choices we can make when life surprises us with something unexpected that turns our world upside-down. We can either give up and descend into the depths, or we can gather ourselves up and take a step forward.
That’s about it. Sometimes it takes us a few weeks or months to shake ourselves loose. That’s alright. We are only human. We aren’t robots who can dance and jump and race faster than a cheetah. We are mere humans who have flaws and limitations.
And yet, we have such infinite potential. We have creativity and passion. We have dreams and inspirations. Yes, sometimes life throws a smothering blanket over us, doing its best to drown the spark. But if we give ourselves time and nurturing compassion, we find our way out. We rebuild and reconnect. We breathe in and regroup.
We start anew.
J. K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, was living in near poverty. Her mother had died. Her husband had divorced her. And yet, riding on a train, she came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series. She was rejected by publisher after publisher. Many authors would have given up. She believed in her vision – stuck with it – and she found success.
Thomas Edison, famous inventor, was demeaned by his teachers who said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” His light bulb idea failed nearly a thousand times. He persevered. He kept at it. He achieved history.
Yes, life is going to deluge us with challenges. With problems. It’s the way life is. It is up to us to find a way through it. Sure, maybe we take a few months to simply breathe. Maybe we turn to yoga or journaling or binge-watching a beloved TV show to make it through. Then, at some point, we take those tentative steps. We find just one small thing we can work toward. One small victory we can count.
And we move our ways upward.
The key point is to start small. Now is probably not the time to take on an enormous project with staggering risks. Think in first steps. Yes, your dream may be to earn your degree and change your life path. Find a small stage to work toward that. Maybe you can research college options that appeal to you. If your dream is to become an artist, maybe you can start working on a drawing-a-day challenge. Choose something which is within reach. Something which builds your skills and nurtures your sense of accomplishment.
It's also important to build your support group. Many of us are tossed into situations at home where we have negative voices pressing us down. Life can be like that. If your immediate environment is suffocating, stretch. Think about the topics you’re interested in. They could be anime, crochet, using TikTok, anything at all. Find a fan group who enjoys that same topic. Build relationships there. That way, as you make progress, you’ll have a cheering squad. You’ll have people who care about the things you care about.
Find your tribe. Treasure them.
Life has rarely been easy. Think back to our ancestors in medieval times who lived in a world with the black plague, poor medical care, and frequent wars. In many ways we live in a renaissance of health. At the same time, we are facing some of the largest threats to the human race as have ever existed, between pandemics and the climate crisis. The stress overload brings on an additional layer of crisis.