It’s been said that there are three kinds of people in the world: Those who are coming out of a storm, those who are headed toward a storm, and those who are in the middle of one right now. Unexpected setbacks and storms that we encounter have a way of changing our perspective. As the old saying goes, we can see the glass half empty or half full; it all depends on how we choose to see it.
Let me give you two questions to ask yourself and your kids when life gets hard.
In life, we all face unexpected circumstances that catch us by surprise. We can either play the role of the victim and allow the circumstances to cause us to grow cynical, angry and sour toward them and other people, or we can stop and ask, “Now what?” “Now what?” takes the focus off of “Why did this happen?” to “What do I need to learn from this?” When your child’s friend at school treats them in a cruel way or they feel like they were treated unfairly by their teacher or coach, encourage them to ask, “Now what?” By asking this question, it will move their perspective from the past and present circumstances to the future. It will shift their attitude in a positive direction that allows growth. We may never fully understand the why, but we benefit from asking, “Now what?” This question can help turn our setback into a set-up for something we can benefit from in the future. The question “Now what?” can help my struggle become a part of my story that can be used to help others going through the same thing. “Now what?” allows us to move forward to help us grow wiser, stronger and better because we chose to keep the right perspective through a difficult or even painful situation.
The other day, I was wearing a pair of new, all-white tennis shoes. My wife, Michelle, had just cooked spaghetti, and I was putting some spaghetti and tomato sauce on my plate when, suddenly, the sauce dripped off of my big spoon and (you guessed it) right on top of my new, white tennis shoes. I’ll have to admit; I had a meltdown! When I showed Michelle my shoes and the spaghetti sauce that was now plastered on them, you would have thought that the worst thing ever had just happened to me. My wife, Michelle, said, “They’re just shoes! You can clean them later.” Honestly, I was so upset because I knew how hard a spaghetti stain would be to get out, especially on white shoes. As I had my little pity party, my 19-year-old son helped me shift my perspective by saying, “Come on, Dad, what’s the big deal? What will it matter 100 years from now?” At that moment, I was acting like a two-year-old and playing the victim of “poor, little me.”
The truth is that my son Luke was right. A hundred years from now, who will care about my white tennis shoes? Please don’t misunderstand me; I realize there are real, severe and traumatic things that can happen to us that can be catastrophic events in our lives (abuse, job loss, bankruptcy, terminal illness, etc.). I’m not advocating that we have an attitude of “So what?” toward painful situations. What I am saying is rather than focusing on the “Why?” behind the situations or circumstances we face, what if we shift our perspective to move forward rather than being paralyzed by our past or present situation? When we ask the “so what?” question, it frees us up to focus on what is important. “So what” can I learn from what just happened to me? “So what” can I learn from this setback? “So what” can I do moving forward that is going to help someone else? “So what” negative can I turn into a positive? When we teach our kids to learn from the two questions of “Now what?” and “So what,” it teaches them to shift their perspective away from the things that tend to weigh them down to the life lessons that are benefiting them and making them stronger and healthier as they weather storms they will encounter in their future.