Remember when everything went according to plan and you had the time of your life? All those lessons you learned by always doing what’s right? All the growing you did, as a person, because you checked everything on your to do list?
Yeah, life doesn’t happen that way. (thank God?!).
The pandemic and its ripples of sadness have touched almost every person I know. There’s a lot of vulnerability and uncertainty on everybody’s plate right now. So re-framing the bad stuff into something that can bring a hint of hope might just be the kind of nudge we need to push forward.
I started thinking of all the dark times I’ve been through and how every shitty situation that happened paved the way for better things. And, more importantly, for a better me. The biggest teachers in life have been loss, grief and all the fantastic facepalm moments that made me humble and infinitely more grateful.
Experience has taught me things like “wearing a dress that will not let you breathe is not worth it”, “car dashboard lights are not Christmassy cute” or “having coffee after 3 pm is not a good idea”. As these things brought their fair share of unfortunate outcomes, the most important life lessons came from another very specific category of shitty things that somehow made me feel grateful, in the end. Intrigued?
A made a list (couldn’t help it) that celebrates the worst things that I’ve been through and that brought upon this realization: everybody needs to have these 5 crappy experiences, at least once. No, this is not my evil twin wishing bad things for humanity. This is the manifestation of the choice to turn sadness into joy, to give yourself the tiny treat of knowing that not only you can make it through, but you can come out a better human. #youcandoit
5 shitty life experiences that make you a better person
1). A Crappy Boss
My first job ever was supposed to A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.
My first boss was destined to be a real life Dumbledore. A mentor. An inspiration.
To say that I was romanticizing every aspect of life as a noob employee, would be a blatant understanding. Commuting, morning coffee runs, cool team mates, the incredible opportunity of learning by doing, the hussle. I’ve been dreaming of all the above since …um, forever.
Reality checked in brutally once I passed the final interview and stepped foot in the office on the first day. I was entering a full blown shit storm of toxic corporate culture. The board of directors got their kicks from …well, kicking employees’ butts everyday. This was not done to guide them or push them forward, but to humiliate them. Badly. Daily. Horribly.
On the outside, this was a thriving advertising company that empowered its young creatives to go beyond the lines. On the inside, fresh college graduates were hired right off the school benches, dangerously underpaid and overworked. Let me spell it out for you, we were treated like slaves.
My direct superior acted like a ringmaster of the circus of horrors that happened daily. His behavior was on the border of harassment. His way of handling things had a hint of nazi. We were all terrified. All. The. Time.
But that taught us never to compromise our human qualities for a job. No matter how fancy it was. No matter our lack of experience or need. Some things are not up for negotiation. On a deeply personal note, I learned that I cannot respect you professionally if you lack any kind of personal values. Regardless of the genius factor you might bring to the table. And this led to better career and life choices overall.
Once you work closely with such a toxic person, you can see the signs a mile away. You can smell the danger and steer clear of it. ASAP. You know that nothing is worth your peace. And that is golden.
2). An Awful Friend
Years ago, I was at a killer Halloween party. The greatest party of all time, as everybody who was there remembers it.
I was dancing with a group of girlfriends – all dressed as cheerleaders from hell – and we were having the time of our lives. Countless shots, dry ice everywhere, dark lights and good music.
Out of nowhere, my ex enters the venue. Another lifetime ago, he went by the name of “my soulmate”. My everything. Now, we were trying to figure out how to gravitate around one another in a friendly manner. But our every encounter gave me goosebumps and took me back in time, opening a sea of possible universes in which we might stand another chance.
He came by to say hi. He was polite to everyone around me and after 5 minutes of harmless chit-chat, he went to the bar to order some drinks.
One of the girls I was with that night immediately started asking about him. She knew who he was to me, but this was the first she’d met him. She asked me to introduce her, to lie about her age, making it seem she was younger and of course, about the fact that she already had a boyfriend.
I was speechless.
After making sure she knew what she was asking me to do – hook her up with an old flame that still made my heart skip a beat – I urged her to do her own lying.
After that, I told her we can no longer be friends and completely shunned her from my life.
Was I jealous? Or maybe overreacting?
Was I upset because she broke the golden rule of friendship: one shall not date a friend’s ex?
It was more than that. I felt betrayed. Unseen. Unimportant.
Cutting her from my life meant doing the right thing for me. I don’t have the time, nor the inner resources for frenemies. For mind games. For always looking behind my back and wondering if a “friend” is going to take a stab.
Once a friend betrays your trust, you grow a second layer of thicker skin that is forever there to protect you against people who are not worthy of your time. For some reason, a friend’s treachery stings way worse than that of a lover’s.
But afterwards, it feels strangely empowering to know that when somebody’s presence costs you even an ounce of inner peace, it’s okay to cut them out. Also, you developed a no-compromise list of qualities true friends need to check off. No exception.
3). A Terrible Job
I’ve added this experience separately from the “crappy boss” one, because an awful job is a conglomerate of bad situations, people and poisonous culture – yup, a terrible trifecta.
It might be that you’re the wrong person for the job, or that you’re in a wrong place. That you weren’t meant to do that (nobody’s life calling is to pick up people’s dry-cleaning), that it makes you resent every second of it, or you have recurrent dreams of being hit by a bus on your way to work – you know, not a life threatening accident, but just enough to get you hospitalized for a day or too, so you have to miss work.
Whatever the situation, an awful job will make you realize what you don’t want in life, thus bringing you one step closer to what you do. It activates a “nope, never-again” radar in your system. And, once you get the big break you’ve been wishing for, and you’re surrendered with like-minded people that bring out the best in you, you have a real appreciation for it. You know just how lucky you are, you’re grateful for chances in ways you couldn’t have had not endured the trials and tribulations of an awful workplace. Hello, newly found gratitude!
Plus, doing the grunt work gives you a whole other level of appreciation for people who do it, who are struggling, who are just starting. Once you’ve been in that situation, you’ll never take anything for granted. And also, you never know how a work experience, of any kind, can come in handy in life.
4). A Toxic Relationship
Heartbreak is not meant to torture you. It’s meant to teach you.
It’s a live demonstration of what you shouldn’t choose in life. And toxic relationships are the explosive combination of compromise, misery and devotion that will determine you to never steep that low, ever again.
The common trait of toxic love affairs is that they are highly unstable. They’re a rollercoaster of high and lows, in which fear trumps respect. Thus, settling for less than you deserve seems like the natural thing to do.
Once you find the strength to leave that relationship, it’s like a veil is lifted off your eyes. You suddenly see clearly and know that true love is not supposed to hurt like that. The best part: the undeniable feeling that sets in immediately after a hard breakup. The certainty that comes from knowing that since you could survive this, you can face everything. That is power.
5). An Epic Fail
This last part is a tad more generic.
It’s basically an open end field for you to fill out with the most embarrassing, humiliating, tough thing you have ever experienced. It might be a failed exam (guilty), a horrific career blunder (ooo, I have soooo many), a major mess up.
The bright-side of any big fail you might have lived through is that you made it out alive. You’re still here. Your head is still high. You’ve learned, improved and grew so much. You’re better and you can help others feel good about themselves.
The fact that you can talk about now, or even laugh about it, that you picked yourself up and tried again, is one of the most underrated qualities of the human spirit. That is the stuff of legends.
Whatever the hardship you’re going through right now, trust that this too shall pass. And, most importantly, that something better is waiting for you on the other side of it. Choose to trust the process, take in the lessons and focus on the silver lining. It’s always there.