I remember the night vividly.
I was laying in my bed, mind spiraling and tears staining my pillow case, wondering what in the world I was going to do now.
I just found out that the person I was going to sublease my old apartment to had backed out five days before rent was due. I was already in a new place and knew that if I couldn’t find someone to sublease in the next few days, I would have to pay two rents that month.
To make matters worse, I was on a business trip for those five days and couldn’t show my place to potential leasers.
On top of that, I was starting school again and had to pay over a thousand dollars for my first class.
I also had to pay for unexpected medical expenses.
Additionally, my personal life felt like it was in shambles, with my once crystal clear dreams fading into confusion in my angsty millennial mind.
All of this happened in the course of a few days.
So I laid on top of my covers, paralyzed by the what if’s running through my brain. What if I couldn’t pay my bills? What if I couldn’t achieve the dreams I had been chasing for so long? What if all of the things I thought I could do were just outside of my reach, and I remained financially unstable, alone and feeling stuck for years to come?
I felt like everything was working against me, rooting for me to fail. But then a few nights later, I made a decision.
I was going to fight for Hope.
Hope is probably the most important thing any of us can hold onto when it feels like our lives are falling apart. It’s hope that gets us through the darkest times, and hope that drives us to fight for a better future. It is the predecessor of change. After all, if we have no hope that things can be different, why would we waste our energy trying to change them at all?
Hope does not come easily, though. It is the first and most difficult step in fighting for your own happiness when clawing out of the pit of despair or complacency. But it is not impossible. All it takes is a shift in thinking.
After much thought, prayers and tears, I found that these five things helped me get through to the other side of one of the darkest times of my life.
1. Take it one day at a time
I am a big planner; I regularly think more about my future than I think about my present. However, I realized that when my life seemed to be steeped in chaos, I needed to learn how to take it one day at a time. I needed to turn my focus from achieving all of my future dreams and goals into surviving today. This radically shifted my mindset. When I wasn’t worrying about what my career would look like five years down the road, I was able to think about what I needed to do for myself today so I wouldn’t have a mental breakdown before midnight. I forced myself to live in the moment when I was so used to living in the future. I started to appreciate the small good things that were happening around me, shifting my focus from the massive bad things that seemed to want all of my attention. When I took the time to just focus on living one day, one hour, even one moment at a time, I felt less overwhelmed.
2. Do what you can and let it go
When the woman who was renting my apartment backed out of the lease smack-dab in the middle of the time my bills were piling up, I became completely overwhelmed by the fear of the unknown. After a week of mental chaos, I took a step back and realized that the stress I was putting myself under was making my hair turn gray.
Once I did everything I could think of to advertise my place, there was really nothing else I could do but wait. So instead of obsessing over it, I decided to put it from my mind. I chose to let it go. Whenever fear would try to grip me, I would force myself to think, “I’ve done everything in my power today to solve this problem, so there’s no use in me worrying about it now.” I realized that the only way to maintain hope is by making your best effort to change the situation you’re in and then stubbornly pushing it from your mind so that you can move forward. Worrying about something you have no control over does nothing but hurt you. Do all you can, and then let it go.
3. Find hope in the little things
Once you identify multiple things in your life that you want to change, it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and wonder if your efforts will actually make any difference. I had heard so many stories of people trying and failing to pull themselves out of difficult situations and it made me fear for my own future. But I decided that hope was a choice, and it was time to choose it.
To maintain a hopeful attitude, I was forced to view even the littlest things in a positive light. When someone expressed interest in my place, I allowed myself to hope that they would be the ones to rent it. When I applied for financial aid at my school, I allowed myself to hope that it would make the financial burden more manageable. Though some might see this as masochistic because of the possibility that this hope might not be fulfilled, I discovered that finding hope in the little things can be like identifying stepping stones that will get you over the river of ambiguity. You hope, and if it doesn’t work out the way you wanted, you jump to the next source of hope. Before you know it, you’re to the other side.
4. Give yourself grace
I like closure, and having my life seemingly completely up in the air made me extremely uncomfortable. I was angry that I couldn’t seem to get my sh*t together! But then I remembered – I’m 22 years old! I’m like a child still learning how to walk on this uneven ground that is adult life. I don’t have everything figured out yet, and honestly I never will. But I am doing the best I can everyday to keep moving forward in hope and faith that maybe someday, things will make a little more sense than they do right now.
No matter how old you are, you have to give yourself grace. If you are working towards a solution to the problems that you are facing, than you are doing enough. You are only human and you will never be perfect. We all go through hard stuff, but if we don’t treat ourselves with kindness through those difficult seasons, we just make it worse for ourselves. When you give yourself grace to simply live to the best of your abilities, hope will come more naturally.
5. Remember that this is not forever
It can be so easy to feel like what you are going through right now will negatively impact the rest of your life. But for many of us, our lives are just beginning. There’s still so much we haven’t experienced, and so much that is still to come. Though these desperate situations can feel all consuming and can be incredibly scary, in reality they are probably blips on the long timeline that is our lives. If we can accept that this timeline will be filled with many ups and downs and will be ever changing, it will be easier to have a new perspective on our current problems. For me, I was eventually able to find someone to lease my place, and I got through the crazy storm relatively unscathed. Now I am able to look back and see how many times I faced an obstacle that felt like the end of the world as I knew it, when it was simply another opportunity for me to grow stronger by overcoming it.
If you are going through difficult times right now, don’t give up hope. You are strong enough to get through the battle that is your work life, personal life, or financial life. If you step up and make the changes day by day that are necessary to point you in the direction you want to go, slowly but surely you will find yourself rising from the ashes of your problems into the clarity that is their solutions.
Take it from someone who can worry more than Humpty Dumpty sitting on the edge of a wall, looking down at the rocks below. Hope is not impossible. The absence of hope however, makes it impossible to live your best life. If you are able to take these difficulties and turn them into something good by using them to help others, grow yourself, or get yourself to where you want to be, then these issues can be seen as valuable opportunities rather than painful interruptions to your life.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”