I want to say that resilience is my middle name, but maybe it’s grit. Either way, I never stay discouraged for long. Still, there have been challenges that simply knocked the stuffing out of me. While I always seem to get back up, I sometimes wonder if the next hit will be the one that takes me down for good.
Having faith in the face of setbacks can be a challenge. It’s easy to tell ourselves that we’re not strong enough or good enough to overcome whatever obstacle has arisen. After all, that’s exactly how it feels. But this is when having faith in ourselves becomes paramount to our ability to thrive.
There have been life-altering moments that have been difficult for me to navigate, but some of the things that have shaken my faith don’t qualify as earth-shattering events. They’ve been a featherweight added to a lifetime of struggle. Seemingly insignificant, they seem to have the power to break me down.
I won’t bore you with the long list of challenges I’ve faced, but I will say that I had a few weeks where doubt crept into my usually impregnable faith in myself and my work. I’d faced a series of rejections on a new manuscript, and even though it wasn’t a new experience, it seemed to hit me harder. Vague rejections kept me guessing at where the work needed improving, and I began to doubt that the project I so fully believed in was good enough.
Usually, I would say unequivocally that finding a good fit for a writing project is a matter of timing and personal preference. It doesn’t normally bother me because I’d rather have the right situation than just anything that comes my way. But there was something about back-to-back messages of rejection that triggered my old sense of not being good enough.
But it was more than that, too. Sometimes, we take life events and imbue them with greater meaning or importance. A manuscript isn’t just a manuscript — it’s a bridge to the next step and the next one. A wedding isn’t just a public commitment — it’s our future happiness. A relationship isn’t just a choice to share our lives — it’s our value. A job isn’t just how we get paid — it’s how we define ourselves. Do you see what I mean?
We take something simple, and we ascribe so much meaning to it that any setback or sense of failure becomes catastrophic. One rejection or failure seems like the end of something larger that we wanted. In a way, this is what makes breakups so much harder — that sense of having something we haven’t even had yet taken away from us, the imagined future.
We add those extra expectations onto our dreams and our relationships, and then we wonder why they can’t carry that load. That’s a lot of pressure for anyone or anything. Our faith isn’t shaken because of one minor, or even major, setback; it’s shaken because we build the foundation on everything but ourselves.
We base our relationship happiness on other people, our career happiness on outside events. We shift the responsibility for being okay to everyone but ourselves and wonder why it’s so hard to believe when the going gets tough. Instead of relying on our innate grit and resilience, we’ve relied on life going as planned, which it almost never does.
Keeping faith in the face of setbacks means unpacking the meaning we’ve placed on events and people in our lives.
When we ascribe too much meaning to anything, we bring on a whole avalanche of problems when anything upsets our forward progress. Our dreams and careers describe what we do and, to an extent, who we are, but they shouldn’t define our worth. Our relationships should be the people we love and enjoy sharing our lives with, but they shouldn’t be the sum total of our self-esteem.
I’ve spent the past few days, maybe more, in self-care mode, trying to deal with all the feelings I’ve had surrounding these rejections. I feel like I’ve been here before in the aftermath of relationships or jobs ending, too. I’ve been taking very good care of myself while I sort through my feelings, and the thought that’s come to the top of all this shifting and sorting has been that I’ve made one story the vessel for all my hopes and dreams.
I’m not sure when that happened. After all, I’ve written four books — published or slated to be. I’ve written hundreds of articles. I’m already busy at work on the next project with unfinished manuscripts waiting in the wings for me to get to them. So, when did this one thing become everything? When did I place the weight of all my hopes and expectations on this one story? And why would I do that?
I began to unravel that idea, and in doing so, I realized that I haven’t lost the faith in my work or in myself. It just felt that way because I expected this one thing to be so much more than it was ever intended to be. I tried to make it carry the weight of a whole world of wishes and dreams and then wonder why it wasn’t able to succeed.
How often do we do that to jobs and relationships, to our children and our possessions?
We outsource our sense of self-worth and esteem, our value as human beings, our personal power and resilience — all of it, we give up to someone or something else to carry. We think if this one relationship works out, we’ll be okay. Or if this job. Or we get that dream house or great car.
We don’t just want the one thing but everything we assume comes with that package deal. Security, admiration, success. We load up little things with big hopes, and then we can’t cope when anything goes wrong.
It’s incredibly difficult to deal with life’s disappointments, but I think we’ve been making our lives so much harder by outsourcing so much of our value to anything outside of ourselves. It’s time to make a change.
If we want to keep the faith, we’ve got to stop ascribing meaning where there is none.
That relationship didn’t work out? It doesn’t mean we weren’t good enough. It just means it wasn’t a good fit. That job fell through? It doesn’t mean we’re worthless. It’s just time to move on. Another rejection letter comes in? It’s not a good fit, and I need to keep looking. It’s simple, and although we’re entitled to all the uncomfortable feelings that come from heartbreak and disappointment, we also deserve to give ourselves a new perspective.
We need to place our faith in ourselves. In our essential worthiness. In our personal power. Whether or not we have successful and happy lives will all depend on how we define those things and the perspective we keep about the events that transpire in them. Keeping faith becomes easier when we stop making meaning where there is none and center our present and our future on ourselves and nothing else.
If we want unflappable confidence, that’s how we get it. We remember our own worthiness, and we hold on to it even when outside voices tell us we’re wrong. We hold fast to our sense of self-esteem and self-worth, and we cultivate love and compassion for ourselves as well as others. We stop expecting our confidence and faith to rely on everything going right, and we learn to strengthen it so that we believe even when everything goes wrong.
Then, when we’ve done this, we don’t have to worry if the next setback is the one that destroys us. We believe in our innate resilience and grit and ability to overcome whatever challenges we face. We adjust our perspective and step into our power. Even though we have our feelings about bad things happening, we can still choose to believe in ourselves. We can experience those feelings and then get back to the business of being who we are and doing what we do. That is how we’ll keep the faith in the face of setbacks.
This article was originally published on Medium.com.
Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned author. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elephant Journal, Elite Daily, and The Good Men Project. She’s also the author of Left on Main, the first book in the Heart of Madison series. When she’s not writing for Medium and working on her next book, you can find Crystal traveling, paddle boarding, running, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, doing yoga, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with her two wild and wonderful children.
Image courtesy of Sonnie Hiles.