I had to get knocked off of my metaphorical horse to learn what was really important in life. As a husband and father of four children, I saw myself as the guy in shining armor on the white horse and that my priority was to work so that I could take care of my family.
In 2009, I took a direct hit from a group of people that I trusted. It didn’t knock me cleanly off my horse, but instead I had one foot sort of stuck in the stirrup and me dragging along, struggling to get back into the saddle.
These are the things—the lessons and realizations—that helped me, and can hopefully help you, make it over a major obstacle, through a tough time, in life:
This experience for me was devastating personally, professionally, emotionally and financially. The only thing that got me through my darkest, most introspective, self-pitying days was gratitude.
Gratitude lists are powerful. Focusing on what is good in my life and the blessings that I have been given as compared to “how things used to be” was truly transformational. It didn’t happen overnight—I wasn’t always good at it, but I kept trying. And I’m grateful for that.
2. Important people are watching.
I might have imagined myself planted in that saddle, with my armor glistening in the sunlight, but I was not perfect. When it all came crashing down, my loved ones were flailing alongside my “horse.” I didn’t know what had hit me or how I would recover. But they were looking at me, so I knew I had to act.
3. Responding is better than reacting.
I started learning to accept God’s will instead of blindly following what I wanted.
I learned to ask myself, What’s good about this that I can work with? I’ve come to understand that when I ask myself that question, things have a way of working themselves out.
4. Asking Why? doesn’t help things.
This was, and is sometimes still, a difficult lesson for me. It just happened, and I had to accept it. Someone who had the power to force change upon me had used it. It really was as uncomplicated as that.
Simple: My life and circumstances changed, so I wound up changing those with whom I spent my time.
6. “Could have, should have and would have” should be avoided.
There have been so many times that I’ve looked back and thought, Geez, I should have seen that, I should have done this, or I wish I would have…
Just name it, it’s gone through my mind, but I do my best to get back to gratitude and acceptance. I can’t change the past; I can only learn from it.
7. The void left by the injury can—and should—be filled.
An old book, Humility Of Heart, taught me that pride really is the root of all things that were bad in my life—and that humility is the polar opposite of that. I have come to believe that as soon as I think that I have found humility, I am probably the furthest from it.
My closest friends are now different than they used to be, and my relationships with them are stronger, more personal and based on a solid foundation of authenticity. I am also reconnecting on a new level with my family.
9. Life goes on, and the new ride is better.
Through all of this, I’ve learned to separate needs from wants, to look at grim periods in life as opportunities to remove clutter and to recognize that I am limited only by what my mind constrains.
Life is now filled with people who love me for who I am—and that thought is both rich and fulfilling.
As I think about moving forward in my life—personal and professional—with an attitude of humility, a desire to be of service and a quest for authentic connections, I am grateful for both how far I’ve come and how much there is left to do and to become.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2014 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Joel Gaslin is a sales and marketing senior executive in the medical device business with more than 23 years of experience leading teams and launching products. He also satisfies his entrepreneurial appetite by introducing unique, fun math games for iOS devices such as the Tic Tac Math series available in the App Store on iTunes.