Let me start by saying, I really don’t know how it all ends, this piece and life itself.

I don’t mean to be Debbie Downer, but I’ve got questions and lots of them. I’ve actually been feeling this way for a while, perhaps not as intensely. But everything sort of came to a head recently when I heard about one more, tragic, senseless, insane story. Why?

A few days ago, a man walked into a mom and pop pharmacy on Long Island and shot four people, execution style, before stealing a bunch of pills. Four people who woke up that morning, thinking the day was going to be like any other, two of them just customers who stopped in. Horrible cliché but so true, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In just the last couple of weeks, an acquaintance has had an old colleague die unexpectedly while a friend has just been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Both men, young, vibrant and with families. Another friend of mine had a co-worker die in his early 30’s, having not even lived half his life.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Okay look, I know I’m old enough to know better than to ask questions like that. If you are a person of faith, the answer might be, “Because it’s God’s will.” But how can that be? Is there meaning in suffering? Are there lessons to be learned and for whom? Do bad things force something of a quantum leap in development?

I wish I had an easy answer. I do think facing trials force us to dig deeper than we ever have before and look at life in a way we hadn’t before. They shake us up and make us realize instead of living, we had been existing, surviving instead of thriving, settling instead of shooting for the stars.

When I lost my job nearly five years ago, I went out on the speaking circuit where I talked a lot about this concept of having to use every single “tool” in your survival shed, of digging deeper than you ever knew possible to become the person you never knew you could be. In the year following my departure from that morning show, I thought that’s exactly what I had been doing. In reality, I wasn’t even close!  The year after my job loss/mastectomy was tough and the one that followed was even worse. The next year I was testing still new lows and year four, well, you guessed it, was the worst of all. But when all the shiny, sparkly things were stripped away, when no one would return my calls, when there was no big paycheck and when agents and friends turned their backs, well that’s when I was ready for the rebuild.

Now, a moment of unvarnished honesty and for this, I have to share something that until now was private. In the year before I left that morning show gig, I was seeing a therapist because I was at a crossroads. I was unbearably unhappy; I didn’t like my job anymore and hated being someone I was not.  I was struggling with whether I was on the path to becoming Diane Sawyer or Oprah, not the women you understand, but their disciplines. And I was stuck, held in place by a pair of golden handcuffs (the money was good) and fear. Well guess what happened when this baby bird was pushed from the nest? I learned to fly because I had to. It was a pretty hard fall and one I’m incredibly thankful for.

See I could not have made this move, undergone this dramatic transformation I have until I was ready. And I wasn’t ready until all the stuff, the shit if you will, was gone. Luckily for me, the shitty people and pretense all went away when the big gig did, leaving in their wake, the real deal. And that my friends, is a strong foundation.

Think abou the times in your own life where you’ve had the most personal growth. It was freakin’ hard wasn’t it? No one wishes for difficulties, even with their promise of exponential growth. At our core we operate from a position of self-preservation and fear. When you step outside your comfort zone, there’s a chance you’ll fail. You might lose the big paycheck, you might have to struggle, you might lose friends and family, it might hurt. Scratch that. It WILL hurt. You will lose some of those things. But when they’re gone and the dust is settling, you’ll wipe yourself off, put one foot in front of the other and walk. Slow and unsteady at first but you get stronger with each stride. Before you know it, you’ve developed a steady gait that’s just shy of a full on sprint. You’re clear, focused and less apt to be distracted as you run toward your new goal. As for me, I’ve just finished lacing up my tennis shoes.

I think the role of hard times is to get every single synapse firing again! They shake the dust off and along with it, the rose tinted glasses and allow us to see life for exactly what it is; ugly and beautiful, difficult and rewarding, joyous and at times, unbearably sad. The trick is to understand that like everything in this life, it’s about balance. Tough stuff is like strong medicine; we choke it down, even though it tastes awful because it makes us better. When we’re sick, all we can think of how good it feels to be well; when we’re struggling, it helps us recognize that which we have taken for granted.

By no means is this meant to minimize the pain and sadness of those people I mentioned earlier or anyone else. As I said before, I don’t even know where this meandering piece or life ends. No one said life was going to be easy and if they did, they were lying. But we have two choices. We can expect an easy ride and wring our hands and lament when it is not. Or we can lace up our shoes and start walking the journey, soak in the splendor of life and the people in it. Learn from every experience and dare to feel the joy and pain in every cell. Because it’s in feeling the gamut of human emotion that we know we are truly getting our money’s worth from this thing called life.

What about you, do you recall the times you did the most learning and growing? How do you approach hard times, with fear and trepidation or with open arms, anticipating the lessons that will come? Okay, let’s share!