Let The Bad Times Roll


For several weeks now, I’ve been struggling with anxiety around the idea that 2014 is going to be unbearably hard, like worse than trying to hold my awful cats Livre and Lola at the same time.

There are real and real-ish reasons to think this:
– I have an incredibly challenging job leading a startup organization with a new business model, using skills I am still developing. (That is a politic way of saying that while I’m convinced we have a great idea, and I know we have great people, I AM TERRIFIED TO NO END that I’m going to screw it up before I figure it out.)

– My daughter is turning 13. I remember being her age. I was many things. Rational, consistent and even-tempered were not among them. Some closest to me might say I have been rebooting my 13-year-old self lately. Thank god my hair is not my 13-year-old hair.

– Mom and Dad are getting older. I’m not worried about their health; Dad makes more unsolicited comments about their sex life than a 15-year-old boy would about a lack thereof. But I do worry about their obligations to others. They’ve more or less moved in with Mom’s mom (my last living grandparent and anxiety soulmate; related: when I am my grandmother’s age, I expect my daughter’s daughter to soothe me with iced Bailey’s and her handsome boyfriend). Anyway, selfishly, I miss my parents and wish they still stalked me on Facebook like they did the year I was getting divorced. More on that in a bit.

And also right now, it is negative a million degrees outside. It is awfully hard to imagine, at the moment, a day in spring when the 400 bulbs I planted in October will have arrived for the kind of party with sundresses and asparagus dishes that I love.

But to my saving grace, I have been writing woe-is-me stuff since I was about eight. I can pull a random journal off my shelf from pretty much any year and read for very little time before I’m reminded of this amazing pattern: The times I thought were hard – indeed, the times that were the toughest – turned out to be the best.

Take this one, from March 2011, two months after my divorce was finalized:

“The fear is horrible. I think it’s the worst of all the emotions I’ve felt – worse than loneliness, even – and it’s the one that has held me back the most. It’s prevented me from making tough decisions, from being honest with people I love, and from getting close to people I could love. It has stopped me from becoming me and living my whole life, from reflecting the traits I feel when I feel most alive.”

But then I went on to write a list I called “Things I Can Do To Banish Fear” (because I am a list-maker and I had a fantastic post-divorce therapist who encouraged this habit):

– Remember the difference between solitude and loneliness (I later wrote a blog post about this)
-Reach out to other people. Be around them.
-Solitude can be easier around strangers than it is alone in your house.
-Be around other couples who are happy.
-Listen to music. Sam Cooke and Patti Smith have made me very happy the past two days.
-Eat well. I haven’t been eating enough, and what I’ve been eating is crap. When I cook a decent meal for myself, I feel better.
-Exercise. Sometimes I don’t feel up for it, but when I just do it anyway, I always feel better.
-Cry. I feel better after I’ve broken down and just cried in front of other people. I don’t like to do it, but I always feel better. Courtney, Justin, even Lily on the afternoon of the furniture store. (I don’t remember the afternoon of the furniture store. Of course I don’t.)

And then I wrote the following little pep talk to myself, which probably made me cry at the time and definitely made me cry when I re-read it almost three years later. I’ve hesitated to share it here because it is a) so intimate and b) so Stuart Smalley, but it’s pretty much the whole point of this post and I think it may actually help someone, so:

“You, Knight, are going to be fabulous. You are getting there so quickly and you just need to keep moving forward. No self-pity needed, but do be gentle and patient with yourself. Look how far you’ve come already. I mean, in 20 minutes you’re meeting (my ex-husband) for a drink. Some people think that’s crazy, but it’s who you are: a passionate person who finds a way to LOVE, and in all the different ways you can love in this world.”

It may sound strange if you haven’t yet been through a similar experience (don’t worry; you will, even though you don’t believe it; I didn’t, but it’s true), but at some point you will actually miss the most trying times of your life. The funny thing about time is that it not only allows you to see how a difficult thing made you stronger, it lets you feel downright sentimental about the struggle itself.

And as for 2014: The biggest gift I can give myself is to write about it, because I know one day I’ll miss its excitement, rapid change and growth, its learning curve and how hard everyone worked. The scary parts will be lost somewhere among all that.


13 thoughts on “Let The Bad Times Roll

  1. Pingback: Step One: Remind yourself how large the world is | Knight Stivender's life in full

  2. Knight, I love your writing (as I have told both your parents). For someone so young, you have amazing insight and an amazing way of expressing things. As you know, I’ve known your parents since I was in college, plus I have two children close to your age, so, if you need a substitute stalker while your parents are otherwise occupied, let me know – I’m an expert at facebook-stalking my own kids (and assorted other people, from time to time) so I’ll be glad to add you to the list! 🙂

  3. In 2012 I took the Job as the first Demand Planning Forecaster in the history of Performance Food Group and was tasked with creating a department and solution that didn’t exist previously. In the process we would be implementing a new forecasting software. I was excited about the opportunity to create something from the ground up my own department. However, upon beginning the project I soon realized this would be no easy task as the consulting firm PFG had hired to implement software went over budget and I was left with a half completed implementation resting on my shoulders to complete on my own, to say I was stressed would be an understatement. I did not have the necessary resources on site or money to get resources. What I had were phone #’s and names of people I could attempt to reach out to for help, some residing on different continents. For 3 months everyday I struggled through this implementation learning and seeking out help. At times I would express my frustration to my father who over the years has had to engineer many solutions to problems never encountered before in his on profession. His analogy and approach was simple he looked at his problem like a mountain in front of one man who had to move it, he explained how each day you chisel away at what seems to be an impossible object to move. You come back day after day continuously chiseling this rock until one day the rock becomes a boulder and then it eventually becomes a stone small enough for you to carry away. It made sense to me an gave me the direction I needed to complete the project and it is one of my greatest professional achievements to date. The consulting firm that went over budget and had to leave later contacted me to offer me a job, it was validation of the achievement I had made over the many months of frustration, but I graciously declined.
    My Advice Keep Chiseling!

    • Shane – I appreciate your dad’s wisdom here. In fact, I used it today in a staff meeting, except I changed the boulder into the Winged Victory and she flew away. (We are arty like that.) Thanks again.

  4. 2002 was the worst year of my life. I was 27. My Daddy died. The company I worked for was going under. I was terrified. I went into a horrible depression. I’m too arrogant for suicide – yet I lived out in the Hickory Hollow mall area & my apartment was in a flight path & I would pray for a plane to crash into my dwelling.

    Anyway… somehow I ran across this quote & I cut it out of whatever paper it was printed:

    “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face.

    You are able to say to yourself, `I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'” – Eleanor Roosevelt

    I carried that dog eared newspaper clipping for years. It either disintegrated or I lost it. But it’s true. I got through that horrible time in my life. And now when something bad happens, I know I can get through it because I’ve lived through worse.

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