I’ve been trying to identify the emotion that sets in, settles in after a setback. And then just when I am to the point of carving out a definition for this emotion – somewhere between sadness and relief, I start wandering, wondering. And someplace near disappointment but right around the corner from courage and along the path of frustration on the way to resilience, I become acutely aware that the entire landscape of life, of following dreams, of living is marked by setbacks. But I am also taking comfort in the awareness that setbacks are not permanent. They are not a place where we go to stay. They are along the way and will be left there as we keep moving along to that place we are headed, to the dreams and the goals.
Just thirty-one days ago, 2023 rang in with all the excitement and hope and motivation a new year brings; and whether you set a definitive goal like weight loss or starting up a gym membership or growing your business or writing a book or you created a vision board encompassing what you wanted your year to hold – intention, peace, boundaries, wholeness, authenticity – you joined the rest of the world in a fresh start. And fresh starts are empowering. They give us hope and let us rejoice in possibilities. They let us dream and give us courage to take risks. They welcome us to move forward into the new, the untarnished.
And while 1/12 seems insignificant in the big picture, it turns out one month, 1/12, thirty-one days is actually quite significant. It turns out a lot can happen, a lot can change, and the untarnished can quickly become tarnished and the landscape can look a whole lot different than it did on the blankness of January 1st. Setbacks show themselves in so many shapes and forms: loss, tragedy. A diagnosis. Failure. A no. Anxiety creeping back in. And sometimes, we see setbacks on the road ahead and we know that we need to slow down, pump the brakes, veer to the side in hopes of swiping just a corner. And there are the setbacks that jolt us in surprise and leave us a little off balance and shaking our heads. But then there are the setbacks that leave big gaping holes in the path with no real signs on how to traverse, how to cross, how to get to the other side. They leave you there in the middle of the road, alone, with your own gaping hole – in your heart, in your soul.
Whether we are pulled off to the side of the road, deep breath inhales, looking back or we are shaking our heads clear or we are standing shattered before an unrecognizable landscape, we, at some point, whisper to ourselves, “Now what?” And it’s in those two words, gently whispered back to ourselves, that we first recognize the road has changed, that we have changed, that nothing will ever be what it was, that the road is still outstretched, but that we will travel it differently now. And I am feeling that more than ever as this January comes to a close; and really not even for myself so much as for people in my life – people I see off on the sides of the road and people I see standing alone before a gaping hole in the road. In thirty-one days, I have watched a young woman lay her father to rest; I’ve watched a young mother wrestle with an unimaginable diagnosis and chemotherapy that has left her sick and tired; I’ve watched a family in their last moments with their mother – learning to say goodbye; I’ve watched a family lay their young son to rest after shattering heartbreak; and I’ve watched a family deal with the tragedy of addiction. Those are gaping-hole-setbacks. Those are forever-changing-the-landscape-setbacks. Those are the strained-whisper-through- tears-, “Now what?” -setbacks. But not all setbacks look this way. Sometimes it is that feeling that sneaks its way back into your mind, your heart, and you can feel yourself being led astray, away from where it was you were headed. It is the anxiety that you thought you had a handle on waking you up, alone, at 2am. It is getting a rejection and then questioning your worth, your why. They are all a whispered, “Now what?”
If you’re somewhere on this road, thirty-one days in, and already questioning how all the hope of a new year is fleeting or is already gone, then rest assured it means you are a living, breathing human and that this is, in fact, part of the requisites of life. And when you can catch your breath and whisper, “Now what?” to yourself know that is your first reminder that you have everything you need to journey down the road, unknown and yet still full of possibility. Take your time. Be gentle with yourself. Sit with it. Be with it. Talk with it. Recognize it is a part of you, but that it doesn’t define you. And then when you can, move. One step. Forward. And then be there for as long as you need to be, and then move. One step. Forward. Bring forward what you need and leave the rest. Bring the bravery and the courage. Bring the empathy and the self-love. Bring the faith and the spirituality. One step. Forward.
As we close Chapter One to 2023, I wish for you bravery to take steps. One. At. A. Time. Forward. Know that you are on your own road, but you are not alone. If you see someone standing before a gaping hole, stand beside them, take hold of their hand, and then take that first step forward with them when they are ready. If you’re the one standing before the hole whispering, “Now what?” we are here when you’re ready.