"It is better to stand in the rain than to run to your enemy for shelter."Matshona Dhilwayo, Zimbabwean philosopher and author
It was February 12, 2006. We were on our way to the U.S.A., on a trip that we had planned, and saved for, over many months. We were giddy with excitement because we were headed for New York City – the Big Apple... city of cities! Except that we weren't. There were storms ahead.
The direct flight from Johannesburg, South Africa to New York meant flying north and refueling in Senegal, before flying across the Atlantic. This stopover usually takes only two hours, but on this day, we sat on the tarmac for a good five to six hours. As passengers sitting in planes do, we started getting restless and wondered what was going on. Eventually, we were informed that takeoff was delayed because of bad weather in New York.
When we left Dakar, we settled into our seats feeling all excited again – we were on our way! As we approached New York, though, the turbulence grew worse by the minute, and our plane was put into a holding pattern. Round and round we flew in that horrible weather, with no prospect of landing.
After being rerouted to Washington D.C., refueling, and sitting on the tarmac for another four hours, we were finally allowed to fly back to New York and land.
Riding Out the Storms
What we didn't know was that our flight was the first to touch down at John F. Kennedy Airport that day. The "bad weather" that they'd told us about in Dakar was a bit more than that – it was a huge storm, and on February 11 and 12, parts of New York city had experienced record snowfall.
We should have touched down at 7 a.m. originally, but by the time we disembarked, it was late into the evening. And there was something else we didn't know until we exited customs: all the public transport systems were shut. Even taxis were few and far between. We eventually managed to secure transport to our hotel – a limousine, no less, the cost of which made us want to cry.
After weighing our options of spending the night (and possibly the following day) in the airport building, or walking 20 miles to our destination in sub-zero temperatures in a place we'd never been before, the limo seemed a sensible option.
Looking back, we often laughed about that evening and the limousine ride. Normally, we would never have considered paying that much for a ride from an airport to a hotel. However, the circumstances weren't normal and we were pushed to think and act outside of our comfort zone.
Storms of Another Kind
Sadly, that relationship didn't last (unrelated to the limousine!) and a mere three years later, I faced a storm of another kind when I got divorced. There was no "limousine" on standby. I simply had to cope with many things I'd never dealt with before.
Yet that stormy period in my life shaped me in so many ways. My self-confidence was in tatters and I had to learn to become confident again. It changed how I saw myself and what I thought I was capable of. My resilience was pushed to its limits and it made me grow stronger, and I learned the value of becoming self-reliant.
The whole sad experience revealed who my true friends were and who turned out to be fair-weather friends. It taught me to set boundaries and to protect myself mentally and emotionally.
Most of all, my career took a totally different turn from the one I had originally planned. Looking back now, I know it was for the better – and for that I am immensely grateful.
What Storms Do
Wikipedia starts its definition of a storm with, "any disturbed state of an environment or in an astronomical body's atmosphere especially affecting its surface, and strongly implying severe weather. It may be marked by significant disruptions to normal conditions."
Isn't that what storms in life do? They create abnormal circumstances that change the surface of your life. They're noisy, severe and scary. They push you to think of survival, finding shelter, and acting beyond your comfort zone.
Make It Go Away!
Often when in the midst of adversity, you feel like you'll do anything to make it go away. Sometimes you become willing to compromise your values. You bargain with your soul, and sell out your emotional and physical well-being. Storms have the power to do that to us.
The other side of the coin is that they give you the opportunity to grow stronger in your beliefs. They reveal a lot about yourself and your thinking – to you. They teach you to delay gratification and to make wiser decisions – not to fall for the temporary relief that you'll later regret.
On our Facebook Career Community, several people commented on how stormy life experiences changed the course of their career, and the impact that had on their lives.
The Truth Is...
But it doesn't matter what spin we put on storms and how good they are for our growth and development, they sometimes leave us shaken, bruised, and in emotional tatters.
Someone that I studied with passed away from COVID a few weeks back. I have no words to describe what her family is going through. That storm uprooted their lives completely, and dealing with the aftermath is crushing.
Life's storms don't necessarily take physical things or people from you, but they can take things that are difficult to regain, such as trust, confidence, and believing in the goodness of the world.
The Storms That Shaped Us
During the #MTtalk Twitter chat last Friday, we talked about how the storms of life can shape us. Here are the questions we asked and some of your most insightful responses:
Q1. How do you view life's stormy periods? A blessing? An inconvenience? Explain.
@J_Stephens_CPA I guess it depends on the storm. Some are challenging and result in a mess. Others are opportunities for growth (it takes rain to grow plants).
@TwinkleEduCons In the past few years, I have come to view them as a life lesson I had not yet learnt, but needed to. There is ALWAYS a takeaway and often the process itself is a life lesson. Difficult and unpleasant, but necessary for continued growth – if we so choose!
Q2. When you are in a storm, what is your first response?
@carriemaslen A common initial response to a storm or period of darkness is to ask, "Why Me?", and focus on the downside. With time and help we can see it as an opportunity.
@emapirciu Am I really in a storm, or do I make a storm out of nothing? I tend to give myself some time to evaluate my options. Otherwise, I risk amplifying the storm with the wrong decisions.
Q3. What do you say to yourself to help you keep going?
@Manex_JMBS If someone else did it, I can do it too, if no-one has done it, I will be the first to do it.
@BMtrainercoach I am smart, capable and I can find a place I should be. I can still be happy – my value is internal... not external.
Q4. What have storms revealed to you about yourself/your character/your values?
@lsmurthy99 Storms teach us the mysterious ways we can be tested by Nature or situations. Replace fears with faith. Resolve to uphold our values all the time and... [it will bring] the joy of learning and gratefulness.
@MarkC_Avgi That I am a survivor. That I can figure out how to come out the other side, with the realization that things may actually be better. With my values and ethics intact, and sometimes with a new perspective on priorities and life.
Q5. How did your worst storms change the way you think?
@PG_pmp That we should always be prepared for anything and not to leave the path of learning... so always create space to upgrade self.
@NWarind The first rule is to lower your sails and reinforce the mast.
Q6. What would you do differently if another storm appeared in your life?
@MicheleDD_MT Think about what I need (self-care) to weather the storm and reach out to others for support.
@ColfaxInsurance Take the time to assess the origin of the storm. Is it in my head/battling w/ myself, or is it an outside factor that I can change/work with? And ask for help sooner, before I feel like I'm drowning.
Q7. How do you react to someone who minimizes, discounts or "one-ups" your storm experience?
@Midgie_MT I no longer react. I ignore it and say to myself that the person has some need to feel "better than" someone else. In this case me, so I do not respond or carry on that line of discussion.
@DhongdeSupriya I just smile. I don't waste my energy and choose to ignore it. By explaining I feel I am diluting my struggle and fight.
Q8. Why do some find it so difficult to ask for support during a storm?
@SizweMoyo Some people view asking for help as a sign of weakness. Life can get pretty tough, asking for help is another way to cope with it all.
@NgukaOduor Fear. And mostly for me it's the notion that I might most likely not get help, so I just struggle with it within me.
Q9. What are the benefits of reaching out during a storm, and who do you ask for help/support?
@llake When we ask for and receive help, it's not just about us. We are better in all areas when we get the right help – in turn, we can be helpful toward others. We need to encourage this at a young age. I ask those who are the best fit. That may not be friends/family.
@JKatzaman Reaching out to those you trust during a storm helps keep all of you grounded.
Q10. How would you support someone who is in the midst of a storm?
@Yolande_MT As always, my go-to thing is to ask a person how I can best support them. What can I do for them right now? What can I do for them tomorrow/next week?
@PmTwee Engaging and encouraging are the best support keys.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat here.
Our storms are part of what makes us who we are – they're part of the fabric of our being. But not all parts of our story are equally easy to own. In our next #MTtalk chat, we're going to talk about owning your story. In our poll this week, we'd like to know which part of owning your story you find most difficult. To see the poll and cast your vote, please click here.
In the meantime, here are some resources to explore strategies and develop skills that can help you to own your story. Some of them may only be available in full to members of the Mind Tools Club.
Managing Post-Traumatic Growth
Back on Track
Working Through Grief
How Resilient Are You?
The Uncertainty Factor
How Can Stoicism Help You at Work?
Life After Job Loss
Managing Your Boundaries
Lazarus and Folkman's Transactional Model of Stress and Coping
From Reactive to Proactive Management
How to Manage a Team Member With PTSD