Sometimes, life is hard. We all experience suffering, loss, and sadness. Every day around the world, bad things happen to good people. We try to maintain our belief in a fair and just universe, but this belief is often challenged when times get tough (or by simply turning on the six o’clock news). During these times, we often ask why. “Why is this happening?” “Why me?”

I’d like to suggest a different approach.

The next time you bump up against life’s difficulties, instead of lamenting over “Why me,” ask yourself the following question: “What is my assignment?”

Life coach and author Gabrielle Bernstein teaches that everything that happens to us—even the bad things—serve as assignments to help us learn what we need to learn in this lifetime. If we don’t learn our lesson the first time around, the assignment will appear again and again until we do.

You might have noticed a negative pattern that comes up repeatedly for you. For example, for years I held tightly to the belief that I needed to do everything myself. I was convinced that if I delegated tasks to others, the tasks wouldn’t get done properly. This belief system caused me to overwork and burn out. And guess what happened almost every time I handed a task off to someone? They would inevitably mess it up. When this happened, I would replay the same old stories in my mind:

Why can’t people just be more organized?
Why can’t anyone do anything right?
Why do people keep messing everything up?
Am I the only competent person on the planet?

After years of experiencing this pattern over and over again, I realized two things. First, by continually re-affirming my negative beliefs about other people’s abilities, I was actually creating a reality where those beliefs were confirmed. Second, by showing me the same pattern over and over again, the universe was trying to teach me something. My assignment was to learn how to trust other people and allow myself to be taken care of.

With a lot of practice, I’ve now come to a point where I find it much easier to delegate. And guess what? Most of the time, these tasks are completed without issue.

As an example of one of my assignments, a friend of mine once posted one of my TV clips on Facebook. When I went to “like” his post, I noticed that someone had written a nasty comment about me below the clip. In a nutshell, the comment suggested that I shouldn’t be helping other people heal their lives until I had fully healed myself. My first reaction to this post was anger, then self-doubt, then sadness. I wanted to defend myself by writing something nasty in return. Instead, I took a deep breath and asked what is my assignment?

I realized that the universe was trying to teach me two things. First, I needed to develop a thicker skin to handle some of the negative feedback that inevitably comes as one’s message begins to spread around the world. Second, I was receiving a very clear message to share my truth. Because the fact of the matter is that I don’t have it all together. No one does. Instead of impeding my ability to help others, my vulnerability and my ongoing healing journey are my strengths.

Instead of replying to the negative comment, I created a video called Confessions of a Yogini, where I exposed myself for who I really am: a meat-eating, wine-loving woman who is also on her own personal journey toward wellness. In just two weeks, the video received over 600 views. The response was overwhelming and caused me to change how I relate to my audience. Since making an effort to become more authentic, my audience has grown substantially. I now have over 2,000 people who like my Facebook page, and there are new people joining my e-newsletter every day.

The moral? I could have read that nasty Facebook comment and stewed over it for days. I could have been impulsive and written something nasty in return. By shifting my attention to what the universe was trying to teach me, I actually created a beautiful situation that helped me—and the people I serve—immensely.

If you’re going through something difficult right now, take a moment to close your eyes. Focus on your breathing for a couple of minutes, slowing down your inhalation and your exhalation. Then, when your mind feels fairly calm, ask yourself the following question: “Universe, what is my assignment?”

The answer might pop into your head right away, or it might take awhile. Every time you bump up against your issue, continue to ask, “What is my assignment?” You can also ask the question in different ways, such as “What am I supposed to be learning here?” or “How is this experience helping me grow?”

It might be that your difficulties are trying to teach you to stand up for yourself more often or to start taking better care of yourself or to stop taking things for granted. Whatever it is, rest assured that the answer will come.

Until then, continue to see yourself as a student of life.

Be open to learning and growing from everything that happens to you, both good and bad.

Tell me, what is your assignment? Please post your comments below!

Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.

Ready for a stress detox? Check out Bethany’s online program, Stress-Less: 21 Days to Recharge, Regroup and Revitalize Your Life. 21 Days. 21 Dollars. A Totally Transformed You.

*Photo Credit: Maastricht Students