Leveraging life’s experiences and embracing struggles is what determines your future. Whether or not you’ve struggled in your life is not what defines you. In fact, it’s rather irrelevant. There isn’t a grown person living on this planet who hasn’t faced their own set of unique challenges, setbacks, and tragedies. It’s how you embrace those struggles to fuel your future.
Leveraging life’s experiences shapes who you are as an individual. The circumstances you were born into and the events that happen to you make up different parts of your identity. They guide how you perceive others, what makes you feel safe, what motivates you—the list is endless. But more so, the way you choose to use those experiences is what guides the trajectory of your life. You must embrace your past to fuel your future.
No matter why it happened, what happens afterward is on you.
If you take even a glance at my personal history, you’ll see that I didn’t take any shortcuts to get where I am today. As a teenager, I became a mother and quickly recognized the many obstacles that were now in the way of me becoming the person I wanted to be.
This was the first time in my life that I learned the importance of facing your own life with autonomy and taking responsibility for your own destiny. While the choices that led to my becoming a teen mother weren’t wholly my own, the blame game wasn’t going to get me anywhere. So, rather than pointing fingers, I took 100% responsibility for the outcome of the situation.
I know that I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today without acquiring that skill early in my life. You can enhance leadership exponentially by taking responsibility rather than passing the buck. The challenges I faced as a young adult helped me to develop a fundamental skill that I now use on a daily basis.
Use what you have right now.
A common trap that people fall into is the “when this, then this” trap. I’ve fallen prey to it many times in my life as well. This trap tricks us into thinking that once all the conditions are right ﹘ once we’ve landed our dream job or can afford a bigger house or whatever it is ﹘ then we’ll be able to grow into the very best version of ourselves. While this theory may make sense at first, it’s actually just an excuse.
It’s entirely possible to let your whole life pass you by waiting for ideal conditions. I like to employ the phrase, “bloom where you are planted.” Life will never be perfect, so you must find ways to grow and improve within the confines that you are facing today. Who knows? You might need to take action now in order to achieve the ideal conditions you seek.
When life gives you lemons, make fuel.
Sometimes life hands you lemons—that is, challenges, tragedies, disasters, traumas, unexpected circumstances, etc. After situations like these, once the tears have been shed or the frustrations have been released, we are often left at a crossroads.
I’ve experienced many moments like this in my life, the most tragic of which was the loss of my brother. He died unexpectedly, and instead of falling into a prolonged pit of despair, I saw it as a wake-up call. My grief fueled me. Life could be gone in an instant, and I was determined to create a life I could be proud of, even if it were lost tomorrow.
You can let your current situation serve as an excuse for stagnation, like a useless weight holding you down. Or you can transform these experiences into motivation to change your life, even if it isn’t in the way that you’d first imagined it. We’ve all heard stories of people overcoming extraordinary circumstances, but those “against the odds” feats weren’t accomplished by accident. They were a direct result of action during and after times of crisis.
Be proud of what you’ve lived through.
The best leaders have often endured the most. They had to fight the hardest to get to where they are today. In obtaining “battle scars,” we gain experience, knowledge, and wisdom. Your best decisions are made with the wisdom obtained from past experiences. Instead of hiding your struggles, past or present, I encourage you to share them with others, even those you’re leading.
As I said in the beginning, no one has led a life without challenges. By sharing your personal setbacks, failures, and unforeseen circumstances, you can be a source of hope for others who are going through a similar situation. To act as though life is a smooth road unfolding flawlessly before you is to discourage those who are living through an imperfect journey. It’s also an outright lie. Share your struggles and how they’ve changed you for the better. By doing so, you perpetuate a cycle of strength rather than false pretense.
Maybe you’ve never stopped to consider how your struggles have affected your path. Perhaps you don’t often reflect on whether the life you’re living now will lead to the life you want for yourself and your loved ones. If either of these sound like you, it’s time to take inventory. A life worth living must be done on purpose.
You would be the luckiest person in the world to suddenly stumble into the life you’ve always dreamed of. It just doesn’t work like that. Take stock of your life experiences. Dig into what they’ve taught you. Examine how you handled difficult circumstances in your life. Did you use them as fuel or let them hold you back? What action would it take to create your ideal life?
Through asking questions like these and creating a proactive plan, I’ve successfully achieved a life even greater than the one that I first imagined for myself. In addition, I’m compelled to help others do the same. If you want to learn more about how to fuel your future with your life experiences, check out my book #keepgoing.