What did you learn from your most painful life experience?

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
-Victor Frankl
In 2021, I was running a half-marathon.
I met a fellow runner, we chatted and introduced each other.
He said he was running a lot of 5ks and 10ks the previous year.
Unfortunately, on half-marathon day, I saw him throw up blood.
I asked him, “do you have liver problems? I’m also seeing your eyes and face yellow.”
He said, “I don’t know.”
In the meantime, one of the volunteers came up and drove him to the local hospital. Doctors found he has high liver enzyme but they couldn’t figure out the reason for it.
Later, I came to know he was moved to the bigger hospital at Chicago, where he was diagnosed with Wilson’s disease associated with hepatitis C.
Wilson disease is a rare autoimmune blood disorder that causes copper to accumulate in the body.
His liver was damaged badly and lungs were filled with a lot of fluid.
Almost two and half years after that incident, we met again in the runner’s club and he recalled and shared some of his past experiences.
He said, “I was only a few moments away from death many times in my past life.”
But fortunately, after his liver transplant, though it wasn’t easy, he got a new life.
Now he has a beautiful family, a loving wife and a healthy daughter around him.
He is doing well, he owns a used car dealership in the suburb of Milwaukee.
He said, “ I’m making great progress in my life.”

I asked him what is progress for you?
He said, “At this stage in my life, my definition of progress is little different, if my daughter is having better quality lives than me and my parents, for me, this is the real meaning of progress, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
He told me that the difference between success and failure means the difference between a life of joy and a life of stress.
In his words, the gap between joy and stress indicates how well we manage the challenge of making meaning in our life.

“I always had linear expectations in my life but I always ended with nonlinear realities,” he said.
He was coming with the expectation to finish the half-marathon that day but ended up in hospital bed after not even finishing two miles.
“I had an unusual life throughout my past days, I always had recurrent health problems, I always suffered, but as Dr. Viktor Frankl, the father of the modern meaning movement has said, “you don’t have to suffer to learn, but if you don’t learn from suffering then your life becomes truly meaningless,” he added.

As we all know, merely understanding our core life problem, whatever it is, even if we can’t do anything about it, gives us a sense of control and sense of satisfaction.
By forcing ourselves to learn what’s happening to our life, we come to accept the reality, the reality of the problem. We become a catalyst in our own thinking and move towards the solution of problems.

He said that he changed seven jobs in his career.
In his last job, he had five reorgs, four bosses, four moves, one failed marriage, and five years later he had his own car dealership.
“One influential thing I learned by my weak health, is I created love for social and cultural overlap in our society, I developed a strong sense of building empathy, kindness, and belonging around me, my desire really sharpened to respect differences in our community; I guess that’s what I was looking as a meaning in my life. The essence of being human is shared emotions, connections and respect,” he said.

One day on his last job, he walked home to his one bedroom apartment and reviewed all credit cards, wondering how he could cut expenses. He reviewed everything, his savings, and all his possessions, and all the holes for expenses.
He figured out he would disconnect cable, phone, netflix, and use free channels and pre-paid phones, stop eating out, and buy no more clothes, shoes, and any other extra things.
He calculated he could survive for fifteen months from his savings.
Next day he walked into his very toxic boss’s office and quit on the spot.
“How did you get the courage to do that?” I asked.
He answered, “The pain of staying with toxicity was greater than the pain of leaving the toxicity, for better or worse, we live in a time when most of our circumstances in life start with I not we. I have to start somewhere.”
A relationship with our boss is toxic if our well-being and dignity is threatened in such a way that we suffer emotionally, psychologically, and even physically.

“Belonging is a feeling which I never experienced in my last job. Belonging emerges from developing and maintaining close relationships either with family members, friends, coworkers, or bosses.”
Harvard study has found that the only thing that really matters in life is your relationship to other people.
If we feel disconnected with other people then it hurts our feelings.
He left the job because he was disconnected and found no value in the working place.

“I’m not saying everyone should quit their job and have their own business, you can be a successful employee but the job you do must match with your personality, vision, and integrity.
You must create the personality of passion and commitment for what you do, you should always enjoy what you perform.
If you think your personality and work environment are out of sync, don’t try to change the system or people. It takes a very long time to change the system and people and there is high chance you’ll be unsuccessful. Instead just quit it and move forward,” he added.
“Of course, we have to accept that a punctuation mark happens in everybody’s life, the only thing we have to do is step back and take a different path,” he continued.

The life experiences provide a period of self-reflection and personal re-evaluation for every one of us.
These moments remain in motion with a series of reverberations that allows us to revisit our very identity.
This forces in our mind to ask what we don’t ask often enough: what is it that gives us meaning and how does that influence my life?
Self-reflection is power.
It is a mental strength, the power to do good. Blessed are the people whose self-reflection do a lot of good things in the society .
Greater self-reflection means greater power.
Self-reflection helps us to provide a path so that we can think properly in both personal and professional life.

There is a saying of Aristotle and his student Thomas Jefferson, ‘the pursuit of happiness’ has to do with an internal journey of learning to know ourselves and an external journey of service to others.
In reality, this journey is nothing but self-reflection.

Most importantly, self-reflection habit comes only after painful life experiences.
But whatever is the source, it helps us to pinpoint where and how to invest our time, money, and effort for the rest of our life.
In this life, there are not many places we can invest.
Of course, the first place to invest is education.
We can invest in our own education or in the education of our children or grandchildren or in the education of children whose family cannot afford.
Choice depends on us based on in which stage we are in life.
My friend studied a lot and became educated from his many jobs for how to be a small business owner and became an owner of a car dealership.
From his childhood, as he said, he was a fan of different cars.
He enjoyed cars from different perspectives, that’s what he chose to do in his later part of his life and opened a car dealership business.
Experience and life lessons taught him what he wants to do for the rest of his life.
He is expanding his car business in different locations outside Milwaukee.

“Education could be formal or informal. Both have the potential to increase one’s earning power over many years and lead to richer fulfilling lives with freedom of choice” he said.

He was always worried his whole life due to his poor health condition.
Therefore, for him, the second best investment in life is staying in good health by adopting healthy habits, especially food and exercise habits.
There is only one life, and the most priceless thing in life is good health.
As my friend said, the value for good health and education can not be measured, these two investments in life can affect our life in a lot of different ways.
Sadly, oftentimes, the value of these two investments we come to know late in life once time passes and we have either little or no time at all to restart.

In Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy theory what is above “self-actualization” is transcendence.
We can only realize this once we move beyond ourselves to see a greater fulfillment to serve the need and hope of others.
Greater fulfillment and service to others is possible only if we become educated and healthy.
“Life is a cause, a calling, a mission, a direction, a purpose, and most importantly, a transcendent commitment beyond ourself that makes our life worthwhile, ” he added.
Stay educated and stay healthy everyone.

Thank you for your time.
-Yam Timsina