(Reprint from Authentic Success Newsletter)
“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” -Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Speech, 2005
Have you noticed that we don’t fully understand the value of our hardships until later on? I haven’t met one person who hasn’t lamented the pandemic effects on their health, lifestyle, career, business, finances, or relationships. The upheaval of the political and social landscapes adds to the profound uncertainty that is disrupting norms, expectations and lives.
Challenges such as these are like the intense heat that a blacksmith uses to forge useful tools like hinges and pulleys out of steel. They appreciate the state of molten metal because it allows them to hammer out something much needed and new. Too bad, we can’t enjoy our hardships when they are hot and happening in the same way.
Or can we?
In the same commencement speech as above, Jobs said that he could not have predicted the value of his difficult early years when he dropped out of college. He could not have known that the seemingly impractical but interesting calligraphy class he enrolled in, would plant the seeds for the beautiful typography that is the hallmark of Apple products years later.
Hardships are the tool that can break us in the right places so that we can be remade again, wiser, more robust and resilient. In hindsight, we know this and yet we continue to fight and resist what is uncomfortable, unwanted and unasked for in the present moment. No one wants to feel broken. However, time and time again, we sometimes need this real opportunity to shed what isn’t essential and what wasn’t working that well in the first place.
How many of you realized during the pandemic that you didn’t need all the busyness of your former life? Or you didn’t want the tediousness of your routines? In the void of sudden change comes the opportunity to trust that something better could be emerging, even if you can’t see or sense it yet.
People are saying we will never go back to normal. This assessment is welcome news for some and not for others. Again we must trust. Change is the only event we can depend on and yet it is the one condition we consistently push back on. To remind yourself of the inevitability of change, look at a photograph of yourself from fifteen years ago.
What if this unprecedented moment is the snapshot that our future selves look back on to recognize how all the dots connect? How it all makes sense. How it helps rather than harms the trajectory of our lives.
Trust is easy to say but hard to do. When things seem bleak, out of control or fragile, trust takes a certain kind of courage that not all of us have. But we can cultivate it.
After graduating from college with a marketing degree, I had to pursue my passion for acting. This decision was a massive disappointment to my mother, who worked hard as a single parent to put me through school. But for me, nothing seemed more fun or alluring than hanging “Jo-Aynne” up on a hook to play some other character. I wanted to live the lives of hundreds of different people, not just my own.
I studied acting and screenwriting. I wrote plays. Although I loved it, I struggled to make money for several years. I was embarrassed by my meager acting income and felt shamed by people who thought I was “too smart or had too much potential” to be an actress. I finally felt vindicated when I landed my first national commercial for Playskool, the well-known toy manufacturer.
It was a huge money-making opportunity. Playschool was launching a new line of toys made with a special plastic that resisted germs. The ad agency had a national campaign planned with residuals from the commercial predicted to top $100K in the first year for the lucky actress cast as the young mom.
After weeks of grueling callbacks, I received the call that the role was mine. The gig got me into the Screen Actors Guild. I was paid $800 for the day, which was the standard union wage.
For the shoot, I sit at my home office desk while my precious baby crawls on the soft carpet by my feet. A happy puppy comes bouncing into the frame with a colorful little ball and drops it in the baby’s lap. I pick it up, unruffled by the potential dog slob on the toy and hand it to the baby. I smile broadly. The germ-free toy makes my day stress-free.
To celebrate my good fortune and expected windfall from the commercial, I rent a limousine and take the whole family to an expensive restaurant in Miami Beach. I treat myself and my then-husband to a luxurious week’s vacation in Maui.
The following month, when the credit card bill is due, my agent informs me that Playskool dropped their ad agency and the whole national campaign. I wouldn’t be receiving another dime from the project. I was stunned, angry, and owed thousands of dollars I could not afford. I felt foolish for wasting my time and energy on such a flighty career while my friends were making their way up the more serious corporate ladder.
(Yes, that’s me on “Performance Night” at The Acting Studio)
At the time, I didn’t know or appreciate what my “failed” years as an actress gave me. The resilience built from enduring hundreds of audition rejections by callous directors whispering I was either too short, tall, skinny, fat, attractive or unattractive for the part. The insight into human behavior gained from dozens of character studies sharpening my people skills, helping me thrive later on in business development and sales. The agile communication capability honed from years of improvisation and live performances, preparing me with the poise and confidence for public speaking, presentations and workshops.
Which leads me to whatever hardships you may be experiencing today.
What intense heat are you feeling these days? What is not going according to your plan? What do you wish would change? These challenges can forge a new and more expanded you that could serve your future self more abundantly. If you can muster the courage to trust the disruptions, discomfort, and disturbances of today, you may look back from the future one day with gratitude for what this moment is shaping within and for you.
Actionable tips: To build your inner trust, spend some time in reflection today.
- Look back and connect the dots in your own life. What “calamities” did you endure that shaped the strengths and opportunities you have today?
- How can you more fully appreciate your experiences, both positive and negative, that have contributed to who you are?
- Look at any aspect of your life today, from your work to your relationships. What hardships are you resisting? If you could fast forward 5-10 years in your life, what potential innovations or directions could these hardships be forging for you right now? Even though there is no guarantee they will come to pass, how could you benefit from holding this perspective?
Thanks for reading. Until next week,
Jo-Aynne von Born, Certified Professional Coach
If you’d like to receive the Authentic Success newsletter by email, sign up here: