2016 turned out to be the toughest year I’ve ever experienced. I haven’t written about it publicly until now because I wasn’t ready. But I’m ready now. I know some of you already know what happened. Many of you don’t know, and a week doesn’t go by where I don’t field questions about what happened. So what happened?
My wife and I broke up. We were together for 14 years and married for seven years.
We met when we were 18 and 19 years old. We grew up together. We have an unlimited number of great stories together. We were also a very public couple, so our relationship was shared by a lot people beyond our extended families. So the process of unwinding our relationship hasn’t been easy. During this journey, 2016 taught me five amazing lessons:
Community Matters – Throughout the whole process of our breakup, I found myself leaning on my friends and family many times. It’s ironic that my work is based around helping leaders build community, but up until last year, I had never fully understood how valuable having a positive and supportive community can really be. There were many times during 2016 that I found myself reaching out to my community saying, “I can’t hold myself up right now, so I need you to keep me going.” And they did beyond anything I could’ve ever imagined. Without my community, I don’t think I could’ve gotten through 2016. The more vulnerable, authentic, and honest I was with my friends and family, the more support I received.
Personal Health – In the depths of my darkness in 2016, I found a thousand excuses to not take care of my physical and mental health. I knew, however, that if I let either slip, everything else would get exponentially worse. So I made it a point to eat healthy, sleep full nights, meditate, work-out, journal, and talk out what was going on. For many years, I’ve taken care of my physical and mental health without fully understanding why it mattered. Well, in 2016, it paid dividends. I often say that you should buy an umbrella before it rains because the price for an umbrella gets jacked up when it’s raining. The same is true for my practice with my physical and mental health. I used to spend hours taking care of both without understanding the real value, but in 2016, I saw the value beyond anything I could imagine.
Process Emotions – I read somewhere along the way that if I didn’t allow myself to feel each emotion that I was feeling, that that feeling would manifest itself in a negative way somehow, someway later on. During 2016, I made it a point to make sure that every emotion that came up was acknowledged, felt, and then let go. Going through this process wasn’t easy because emotions would hit me at the most random moments. Once, I was giving a keytalk at a conference and an emotion from our relationship came up. So I chose to let it out. The audience must have thought that I was crazy, but in that moment, I knew it was the right thing to do, so I let it out.
Being Your Best Self – During our break up, I mentioned several times that I wanted both of us to be the best versions of ourselves…even if that meant we would be independent of each other. I don’t want to be with someone who is limiting their growth to stay in the relationship. Nor do I want to be in a relationship with someone who is limiting my growth. The relationship I want is when we are both in our own boat, rowing in the direction that is best for each of us, with our own strong sense of self, and an internal ability to self-sooth. Anything less could create a dependency or codependency.
Working On The Relationship -In my business, we have daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly strategy meetings to continuously pull us out of working “in” the business so we can work “on” the business. In my relationship, I used to have a saying of “timing over topic” which meant that I’d hold off on bringing up a topic because the timing wasn’t right. But without regular check-ins in place in a relationship, like I have in my business, the timing was never right, the topic would never get brought up and instead fester. I’ve learned how to better say what and how I feel, even if it means that in the short term there is going to be friction. Also, one of the blessings of our relationship was knowing she would be there for me, but that can also be a curse because it’s so easy to take that for granted. Working on the relationship means that I don’t take things for granted.
Heartbreak, sadness, and loss are tough. There is no need to sugarcoat the pain. At one point last year, I wrote in my journal that it felt like there was a little person in my stomach punching me throughout the day. I also remember on a road trip for work, I didn’t want to hear the voice in my head, so I cranked up music and sang as loud as I could. I didn’t want to be alone. Weekends were particularly tough because I didn’t have work to keep me occupied. There were also many times I had to consciously tell myself to not drink because I recognized how easy it was for alcohol to mask the pain. And oh, how the pain was real.
However, with the five lessons I learned above, it’s now a year later and I’m in an amazing place. In fact, I feel more full, complete, and whole than I have ever felt in my life. I don’t wish my 2016 on anyone, but at the same time, I’m thankful for it. The lessons I learned in 2016 have helped me to rewrite some core fundamental beliefs about myself, and life, that I don’t think could’ve happened without a major shake up. As Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
I hope that my lessons from 2016 can help you the next time you get knocked down and feel like you can’t get back up. And if you don’t have someone in your life to be there for you, contact me and let me know. It gets better.
One final bonus lesson I learned is that everyone is on their own journey that is filled with lots of twists and turns, so I’ve learned to tread lightly on others…as well as myself.
Hugs from me to you :-).