Last night I got a call from a good friend who was going through an ugly divorce. Her story was not new – twenty one years as a house wife with a slowly disintegrating marriage leading to divorce. Now she was an emotional “deer in headlights”, living on food stamps and cleaning houses to put food on the table for her three kids. She wanted advice, a quick solution that would put her back at the “best of times”. She had talked to her friends who gave her emotional support and comfort but that didn’t correct any of the issues. She needed someone who would hit her between the eyes with a big dose of reality and that was me.
I had learned an important life lesson in Junior High School from my good friend Scott Antinori. Scott was pure Italian and had the personality of a typical fiery, animated Italian. When Scott spoke he tended to get excited which resulted in an increased volume and lots of profanity. What always astounded me was that no one ever batted an eye when Scott started spewing words that would have gotten me grounded or punched in the face. Scott could string together a series of F-bombs and you would be rolling on the floor instead of offended. It was simple, Scott’s persona allowed him to curse without being offensive.
I realized that I would never be able to cuss like Scott but I did have a unique knack for being blunt. My friend knew this and after sharing enough of her story I gave it to her straight. “Your life has changed, whether the change is good or bad is up to you. And the change isn’t going to be easy,” I said.
I reviewed the facts: no career to fall back upon, limited resources and a scorched-earth spouse. There was some crying and then I said “You are hitting the life reset button. Deciding what you want your life to be like is often the hardest part. But, once you decide you can start mapping a way to make it happen.”
“That will take years and years” she said with despair.
I have seen personal trauma (divorce, death, fired from job, natural disaster…) enough times to realize that people recover from the trauma. Sometimes it takes a long time, sometimes it is quick. Sometimes it leaves scars and sometimes people come out a better/happier person. I asked her a rhetorical question “Do you want a good life, a life that you have already pictured in your head?” This set me up for my next question, “What two things can you do to start you on your way?”
One of the things I have come to realize is that taking the first steps of a “reset” is often the biggest stumbling block. By breaking down the “reset” into a couple of initial baby-steps, I have found it gets people moving in the right direction. This process has worked equally well with getting a client to make an investment decision or getting my daughter to do her homework. So next time you have a friend/child/loved one… faced with a significant quandary, jot down two small things that will get their ball rolling and nudge them into motion.