It’s one of those phrases that is retroactively positive, but mind-numbingly frustrating in the present. It’s always issued by well-meaning friends and loved ones, doing their best to encourage someone going through a rough time.
“Everything happens for a reason.”
In high school, I had to remind myself of it when I had girl troubles. As it turns out, every one of those girls I wanted to be with would have been terrible fits for me. Retroactively, I had to go through some nasty breakups to get me closer to the woman I would end up marrying and having three children with. But at the time of the pain, there was no “logical” reason for it. When people spoke like that around me, I refused to listen.
Like pretty much anyone in the world, I’ve gone through my share of hardships. Almost always, I can point to something in my present and say, “The hardships of the past were worth it to get me to this place.”
And in the midst of the current COVID-19 hysteria, these words have never been more relatable to me.
A series of unfortunate decisions…
I’ve touched on my past business failures and financial mistakes, but let’s just do a quick lightning round of some of the worst financial decisions I’ve made for my family in the last 5 years…
- Walked away from a consistently-paying client
- Quit copywriting to start a wood shop
- Undervalued my wood shop to the point of financial suicide
- Tacked on tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of debt, torching any and all progress we made toward debt freedom in the preceding years
- Overcommitted to ghostwriting to the detriment of my health
- Told my wife to quit her job so she could be a stay-at-home mom
I’m sure there are others.
At a time when friends of ours were celebrating huge advances in their careers and big promotions, I was barely figuring it out. While everyone around us bought their houses, we have continued to stick to renting with crappy landlords. And as virtually every family we know has leaned on grandparents to watch their kids so that both parents can work and keep money flowing in to cover the bills, we failed to pay our bills or our debts, resulting in threatening letters, the occasional lawsuit, so many collector calls that we stopped answering our phones entirely, and we basically wrapped our credit score in dynamite and lit the fuse… because I insisted my wife stay home with the kids.
And yet, after all of this, I can see the why.
The dominoes started to fall our way
One of the (many) reasons why I am thankful for the dating hardships I went through in my youth is because it resulted in me being married to the right woman.
A very close friend of mine commented in the middle of our bottoming-out period how she wouldn’t have the patience with me that my wife has. It’s true: most sane spouses would have given up on their husband’s efforts to work for himself, especially during a time when it was clear he had no clue what he was doing.
But my wife stood by me every step of the way.
And because she supported my desire to work for myself, I supported her desire to be a stay-at-home mom, which is what she always wanted to be anyway. No matter how dark things got financially, I refused to entertain the idea. The matter was closed for discussion, in my mind.
Then, the dominoes started falling – in a good way.
A past client started sending me small projects out of the blue, making me their go-to copywriter. It wasn’t much, but it was some money that we could rely on.
One of my first copywriting colleagues connected me with another client, and that resulted in a retainer agreement that has given me a monthly paycheck since June.
I’ve been able to land a little extra copywriting work every month, which gives us some extra money to sock away at our debts.
In the past year, we’ve cut our massive pile of debt by tens of thousands of dollars. We have been able to negotiate and deal with our debtors directly, and we have a clear path to cutting it down even further, reducing it by more than half when all is said and done.
Meanwhile, my wife has been able to be the main influence in our boys’ lives, offering them stability that a lot of kids don’t have.
In my neverending gratitude for our current situation, I can draw straight lines between some of our hardships of the past and our current stability.
And then the COVID-19 Panic hit.
“This is our time to shine, honey!”
In March, the world shut down.
Virtually every place of employment closed down. People started making memes about how hard it was to transition to working from home.
Me? I was annoyed with not being able to go work from a coffee shop once a week. But other than that, I already have a home office. I already have been working from home. I have a routine down that has changed very little since the start of the pandemic.
Schools closed down. Parents couldn’t have care for their kids. Some argue over whose work is more important and who has to watch the kids. Working parents have scrambled to figure out how to handle their kids all day. More memes about being disorganized, homes being trashed, and parents desperate to get away from it all.
Meanwhile, my wife has been able to pretty much take it in stride. It’s like a summer vacation for her: a little more work because our older son is not able to go to preschool three days a week, but other than that, she already was the constant presence in their lives. Other than not being able to go anywhere, the routine hasn’t been changed much.
Jobs that were once considered “stable” and “more responsible” than being a freelancer have been furloughed or eliminated. Even healthcare workers that I speak to are in danger of losing their jobs. Many are forced onto unemployment. Others keep their jobs, but have had hours cut as forced days off become the new reality.
Not only have I not lost any work, I’m gaining clients. My income is steady and reliable. Nothing has changed, not even a little bit.
My wife and I sat down one night early in the lockdown to process the chaos of the world around us, and I smiled. “This is our chickens coming home to roost! Our lives are built for this moment! This is our time to shine, honey!”
None of our current stability would have been possible without the hardships
For years, we’ve dealt with an unstable professional and financial life. We’ve stressed and lost sleep over all the things we had no control over.
What we didn’t know was, suffering through that would set us up for unprecedented stability.
While everyone else deals with doubt and worry when it comes to handling their kids, managing their families, and keeping their jobs afloat, it’s been business as usual in the Meitner household.
No, we’re not immune to the problems with these lockdowns. We’ve had deaths in the family and a lot of stress in other ways.
But while the general population doesn’t know what to do next with their jobs or their kids, we’re better suited than almost anybody.
Why? Because we suffered on our own beforehand. We dealt with our own problems while everyone had their stability.
We learned while others coasted. Now, we’re prepared for the game.
If you’re struggling in the midst of all of this, with uncertainty at every turn and financial hardship bearing down on you, I feel you. I’ve been there.
But whether you want to hear it or not, everything does happen for a reason.
Our past struggles set us up for this moment. And your current struggles could be setting you up for something else down the road.