Tag Archives: the positive divorce

Transformational Divorce

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Everything that happened from the moment my then-wife said she’d been to see a lawyer, has delivered me up to be healed in a way that would not have been possible had we stayed together.

I wouldn’t have wished for it, but I now see, looking back, that my divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me.

My entire world (kids, wife, house, work, neighborhood, sports, money, creative life, play) exploded into tiny pieces. When the business of divorce had been done I got what 90% of divorcing dads in America get: 35% of the time with their kids, the non-custodial parent role and a big child support obligation, and no house. It’s as if I went from Pleasantville to homeless in a matter of weeks. And the homelessness is no joke. The financial and psychological drains on a father in the midst of divorce are immense. I was barely able to stay afloat. And more than once I wondered if I was going to be able to stay alive. Perhaps my large life insurance policy would be better for my kids than me. WOW.

I’ve been working on selling my “Whole Parent” story as The Positive Divorce, but maybe that’s too tame. What happened after my divorce was life altering for me, my ex-wife, and my kids. And the Phoenix from the Flames has been my creative power caught fire, my writing found a deeper voice, and my audience, here and on several other blogs began to grow. I wouldn’t have wished for it, but I now see, looking back, that my divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Sure we were making the best of it, but we weren’t happy. We had very different ideas about what the other person “should” be doing. Well, I’d say she liked to “should” on me all the time. I liked to “should” on myself, but was primarily a pretty happy-go-lucky man. I liked my kids, I liked my job (except when I hated it) and I did my best to support my loving and beautiful wife through every aspect of our relationship. But something was always wrong. Something never met her expectations. I couldn’t figure it out, but I learned that I couldn’t fix it either.

Lesson #1 before the transformation: I could not make her happy. I could not fix her. I could only keep myself focused on myself. (An old AA concept: never take another person’s inventory. You can only manage your own.)

Lesson #2 before the transformation: I am responsible for my happiness and the support and caring of those around me. But no one else can make me happy. If I struggled with depression, it was only me who was going to be able to bootstrap my way back to joy.

Lesson #3 before the transformation: Kids are the center of the universe, but kids will not save your marriage or make your life worth living. Kids are a lot of work. The most amazing and rewarding work of all, but still… The stress of having kids really toppled some balance my then-wife had kept together for our entire courtship. She went from happy and self-satisfied to exhausted and angry. That wasn’t really the kids, it was a tendency in her, that only she could deal with.

If you minimize the war with your ex-partner, you can give the kids a hopeful and optimistic outlook on life, even when things don’t work out as planned.

Lesson #4 before the transformation: therapists can be good or bad. A bad therapist can enable and encourage poor behavior. A bad therapist can coddle a depression. A bad therapist may do more damage to your relationship than no therapist. My then-wife has a personal therapist who allowed her to bury her feelings and not deal with issues until they became HUGE. My therapist allowed me to let her go even when I knew it was the hardest thing I would ever do.

Lesson #5 before the transformation: before the divorce you have no idea how you are going to survive. The time without your kids. The depression and loneliness. All the darkness of the divorce, brought me to my knees. And that’s when I learned to pick myself and my needs back up off the floor, dust them off by myself, and put a plan together to get what I wanted next.

Lesson #6 before the transformation: love seems like a long shot when you are losing the love of your life and your kids. But the transformation will burn away the sorrow at some point. The love you are letting go of will transform into power, direction, and clarity as you reach out for what you really want, now that you know.

Lesson #7 before the transformation: the kids seem to suffer, but they will be okay as well. My two children were 5 and 7 when the transformation happened. Today they are 13 and 15 and they are two of the happiest, most well-adjusted kids I know. While they know the price we all paid in away time, they seem happy and well-directed in their own lives. While I didn’t know if I could survive divorce, I was more worried about my kids.

If you minimize the war with your ex-partner, you can give the kids a hopeful and optimistic outlook on life, even when things don’t work out as planned. None of us would’ve wanted the divorce to happen. But as I talk with my kids today, we all agree that things are better now. I’m happier. I’m with a woman who makes me happier. Their mom seems to be happier. That’s the goal, happier and more centered in life, for all of us.

The transformation took about 4+ years for me. I have mapped it out.

transformational-recovery

YEAR ONE: It’s time to let your guard down and grieve. You’ve just gotten a divorce. Let that sink in. Miss your kids and allow that longing to penetrate your ego. Get angry. Find new things to do with your energy. Find new hobbies and activities.

YEAR TWO: As your life stabilizes a little you begin to refocus your priorities around the kids. Without the marriage as a focus you can pour your energy into your children. You will also need to begin your own healing process. Start a martial arts class, join a divorce recovery group, begin journaling. It’s time to work on YOUR recovery.

YEAR THREE: You begin grasping terms like co-parenting. You are now working more as a team. You may not agree with your former spouse, but you can agree on what’s best for the kids. As you begin feeling stronger and more yourself, you might begin to date again. Don’t start dating too soon, you’re liable to end up in another failed relationship.

YEAR FOUR: As your life begins coming together you can leave relationships that don’t serve your future goals. It’s easy to make your kids a priority, but you’d like to have a companion along for the journey too. You realize the job is a means to an end, not the meaning of your life. The “off parent” hours are spent doing things you love and perhaps finding another person to love.

In four short years my life went from shambles to aspirational. I learned that I was not going to settle for half-ass again. I had overlooked some early warning signs at the beginning of our relationship and marriage. I won’t make those same mistakes again. After the transformation you can reset your priorities.  You are being giving another chance to do it better, to get it right.

My divorce was the transformation I needed in my life to get back on track. I learned what made me happy. I learned I really needed to be with someone who shared the same sense of joy and wonder at the world, that I could wake up with every morning and say thanks to the universe for. I was looking for a WE that made my life bigger and better. My marriage provided a lot of growth, two wonderful kids, and the transformational experience that reoriented my life completely.

I give thanks to my ex-wife for releasing me back into the universe. I needed to grow and re-find myself and what made me happy. Then I was able to seek out a more like-minded partner and setup our long-term relationship on mutual goals and mutual adoration.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Celebrating 2 Years of Being The Positive Divorce Dad

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You never leave the family, you just leave the house.

Two years ago I started this journey, finding the Positive in my divorce. My life was changed by the act of trying to reframe everything in a non-adversarial mode. Even when she would be mean, I would never respond in-kind. Ever. Having this blog, this Positive folder to put stories into made me more aware and more conscious of creating love and connection between myself and my kids. And in not riling up their mom, giving all of us an easier life, post-divorce.

As I have continued to weave my Positive Divorce story in the public eye, I have learned many things.

The angst of divorce is our own. The trauma of divorce is held within all of us. If I can behave in ways that support my kids in every interaction, I can remember to be kind, be slow to react, and be thoughtful of our continuous future as a family unit.

Things started two years ago with this post.

dad's gang

A Return to Wholeness After Divorce

There’s no way sugar coat it. Divorce is the single biggest event that has happened in the lives of my family, ever. As amicable as you want to make it (and we tried) things get rough, sad, hurtful, complicated, and confusing. And while we as adults can only fathom that chaos from our own perspectives, the churn in our kid’s lives will shape them forever. I know my parents divorce, and the subsequent loss of my father’s love and influence, had devastating effects on my life. I’m a survivor. I’m here to talk, write, and grow even more from the experience. But it sucked.

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And along the journey to now, I have discovered many things about myself, about my kids, and about this process of divorce and recovery from divorce. The goal, when you separate is to maintain a civil relationship and do what’s best for the kids. It’s a lot easier to say that than it is to actually do it. Your ex will do stuff that baffles your mind. You will want different things. You will do the best you can. And it will be a challenge sometimes, but I learned that when I was able to hold up the positive white flag of surrender, I was able to set the tone for my experience of the divorce.

I also wrote the manifesto for what I was doing. It has been updated several times, but the core mission remains the same.

Becoming The Whole Parent, author, John McElhenney

About Becoming a Whole Parent Again, After Divorce

My unwavering and immutable mission:

1. 100% positive
2. Kids first
3. Honest feelings

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In the second month I met Arianna Huffington at a tech conference. When she gave out her email and asked for ideas I was typing the message and including my post from earlier that morning.  All Available Light: Positive Parenting Energy Is Never Lost. I think that post really turned a corner for me. I was hitting stride and developing a different voice that would grow stronger the more I wrote. Arianna emailed me back within hours and I became a HuffPo blogger. See my archive: John McElhenney on the Huffington Post.

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It was at this point, a good three years into my divorce journey that I hit on my home run post. (Still getting the most reads of any page on my blog.)

What A Single Dad Wants In the *Next* Relationship

Rules for dating a single dad. (I’ve got two kids and a full-time job, but I’d still like to find time to be with someone.)

  1. Let’s not rush into things.
  2. I’m Looking for 100% Pure Connection
  3. I’m Into Moms

There’s more, but you can read it in the post.

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And next was the 2nd post divorce relationship and first experience with navigating another person’s resistance and dysfunction. All the while, learning to let it go, take it easy, and keep my focus on the present moment and not wondering and worrying about where we were going.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 7.55.42 AMLearning About Sex and Dating As We Go Along

Dating is not marriage. In fact, dating (which I admittedly don’t know much about) can be shut down by getting too serious or too future-plans oriented. As my schedule and future is quite flexible, I was surprised how quickly my “relationship” concepts changed yesterday when confronted with a challenging dilemma. On one hand I had met and “dated” an amazing woman. One the other she was telling me how our closeness and chemistry was freaking her out.

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And then I was able to open up a bit about post-divorce depression, which is common for us empaths.

WHOLE-thekissHow Long Will it Hurt? Divorce Recovery, the Road Back to Happiness

Today, over four years after my divorce was finalized, I was still struck by a pang of sadness as I was dropping my kids bags off at my ex-wife’s house, the old house, our old house. I wondered, “How long will it take before I feel nothing?” But I immediately knew the answer. I will always feel a loss when dropping my kids bags off at my old house. The rest, what I do with those feelings, is up to me.

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Everything seemed to fall into place after I wrote this important post.

WHOLE-prayerPrayer for Single Parents, and My Ex

“I wish you happiness in your new life, I always want to see you shine, you are the other half, the partner in this parenting journey we accepted together. Your joy is joy for our kids. Your peace is their peace, and mine. As we walk separate paths we are blameless and grateful for the gifts we’ve been given. And to you, my dear ex, I give the deepest respect and love. Thank you for where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going, still a family, still parents, still blessed.”

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And from that point on, this blog became as much about relationship building and dating as it was about divorce and difficulties. Rounding the 5th year after divorce, things began to change for me.

I was invited to do a few interviews:

I began to identify my core relationship needs and decided drop online dating as distraction. I put the intention out there for what I wanted, and started working on myself and my joy rather than pursuing a relationship.

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I wrote The Deep Space Divorce Saga which began with

My Little Rocket Ship of Hope and Love WHOLE-rocketship

I am hilariously ashamed, and… Laughing at my situation, because if I didn’t laugh at it, I’m sure I’d be freaking out, depressed, or drinking. Something to escape my current grounded state. Ready to laugh? Me too.

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And it was right at this time, January of 2015, that an amazing woman showed up in my life and changed everything.

May I Fall In Love With You?

Do you long for the intoxication of love again, like me? I can feel it in my bones, growing stronger daily, as I grow stronger and more confident. And the more clear I get about 100% or nothing, the easier it is to make decisions about my time and efforts. Dating and a relationship will be a core part of my life again. Today, not so much.

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The new non-dating attitude and honest reinvention of myself had called in the perfect woman. I could not have known it at the outset, in January, when I wrote the post above, but within several months there was an entirely different thread being woven on this blog.

whole-bw-coupleAn Amazing Thing Has Happened

She arrived in my life in January of this year.

In February of this year my life fell apart, due to my own emotional tides and I slipped into a depression. I did not see it coming. I was on top of the world, and boom, I was freaking the hell out. And then the most amazing thing happened. She stayed close and connected.

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And the rest, as they say…

Thank you for staying on this journey with me. The outpouring of love and support has been vital at times. My positive attitude continues to get stronger and project itself into other’s lives, through this writing. I am learning. I am growing. And I hope, I am becoming a better father, ex-husband, and lover. Let’s see where we go from here.

I think my latest post shows a continuing search for meaning in all of this love stuff. And I’m very excited to be back on that path again. This time for good.

WHOLE-runner

The Care and Feeding of Your Lover

Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it however it best suits them in the moment.

 

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Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Note on the intention behind this post and this blog: Yes, divorce is hard. Trying to whitewash every single detail of a co-parenting relationship in some fantasy land haze would be of benefit to none of us. I am committed to owning my part in the divorce, always. And I am hopefully clear on my self-awareness when it comes to my own struggles with money, depression, communication breakdowns, and disagreements with my ex-wife. What I hope, is that this post doesn’t come across as a humblebrag, but as a celebration of the progress I’ve made in navigating the last two years of being a single parent and co-parent. I always appreciate comments and feedback.

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What Am I Doing Here? Ah, Another Divorce Blog

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I do think I’ve grown as a result of this blog. Quite a bit, actually. See, I have this other blog… Well, if you know me, or LIKE the Whole Parent on Facebook, you know about the other one. Anyway, the growth and transformation over the last five years as a divorced dad is much easier to spot on that blog. I was mad, confused, depressed, and going a bit mad, when my ex-wife said she was no longer interested in working on our marriage, but would prefer to work on our life as co-parents, sans marriage.

The inner question I began asking myself, everyday, “Is there is a positive spin I can put on my life after divorce?”

I busted out my poison pen on that one. I acted out. I wrote F U letters. I got mad. I got sad. I got ecstatic. I got in touch with my voice. Somewhere in the burning blaze of my divorce and survival from divorce, I became a writer. I’d always been writing. But the D gave me a new vein, opened for me, to mine and hype and explore. And over the last five years that blog has grown and thrived into a successful platform for my less-balanced output. Maybe it’s in the imbalance that I found “my voice.” I  don’t know. But I do know that the words that have come out of me over the years to describe feelings of loss and hopelessness, defining roadmaps back to happiness and even love, those words were healing for me.

And almost two years ago I launched this blog with a new intention. 100% Positive. (That one is still hard.) Kids first. (On my good days, this is a breeze.) and Brutally Honest. My little meme still fits quite well.

donoharm-WHOLE

The transformation happened in my life when I began to look at every parenting decision or situation with the Whole Parent perspective. How could I turn even crappy things into some learning experience. It wasn’t easy at first. You can see in the early posts here, how I was pretty tentative with my criticisms of my ex-wife. But this blog is not supposed to be an apology or positive white washing.

The inner question I began asking myself, everyday, “Is there is a positive spin I can put on my life after divorce?”

And it was this question alone that accelerated my transition from a divorced dad into a co-parent. I’m still a divorced dad, but I’m no longer a single dad. I’m engaged to be married to a woman who is ecstatic about me and about my kids. It’s obvious when we’re together, this new electricity-fuel love. She’s from the “positive” school of thought as well. And together we more than double each other’s exuberance. We are exponential together. It’s dangerous sometimes, how happy and lovey dovey we are, but we’re okay with that. LOVE ON!

But there is something that I’ve tried to do with both my divorce blogs from the beginning: be transparently honest about my own failings, hopes, and progress. Even this blog can be seen to trace an arc out of divorce recovery and into relationship building. Today my life is more about my new relationship, rather than the old, broken, relationship I had with my then-wife. I’m not even doing “divorce” much either. I’m really a parenting blogger.

My mission is be the best parent I can be. Everything else is merely story and circumstance. While I tell the stories, and even rehash them, my goal is to hone them down into a fine narrative about a man who fell from the house of marriage, recovered his sanity over time with a lot of work and journaling, and who is now building a new life and relationship for himself and his children.

The cool thing about this new love relationship, is my kids are really getting to see two people who dig each other. What was obvious in the early stages of my marriage to their mom, began to fade and become ragged before we divorced. Even then, my kids were 7 and 9 when I walked out the door for the last time. Today they are 12 and 14. They are experiencing the world in a very different way. And today they are seeing me as happy as I’ve ever been. This has an effect and I believe they are happier as well.

No rapture here, just daily strength and hope, from a divorced and soon-to-be-remarried, dad.

What I’m really showing them, however, is just how to be a good man, how to be a considerate and chivalrous gentleman, and how to be the dad they should’ve had their entire lives. But I’ve just recently shown up in my full-power again. It’s exciting to see where we will go from here.

Today we’re settling into a new house as a family. And while the kids will remain on the limited SPO (standard possession order) for a while, everyone seems almost giddy with delight. The time with all four of us in the car, or eating dinner, is as a new and different family, but a real family. Finally, I’m a man and a woman with kids. As a single man I was somewhat limited and damaged in my perspective. While I would say I have been a good dad, my exuberance has only begun to return under the influence and support of this loving partner.

I do relationships really well. I wanted my marriage to continue, but it did not. And that failure has given way to such joy and happiness that it’s hard not to thank my ex-wife for giving me this new opportunity for a joyous life. She deserves to be happy as well. We all deserve to be happy, but sometimes it takes a lot of work as well as a lot of time to get things back in place.

I joke sometimes that life is so good that I might “rapture” if one more good event takes place. The good things keep happening, and I’m happy to say, I’m still here. Everyday is a new opportunity to show up as a better man for my kids, for my new partner, and even for my ex-wife. We ARE actually all in this together. Today, I’m so glad I have someone to contemplate my side of the equation with.

No rapture here, just daily strength and hope, from a divorced (soon-to-be-remarried) dad.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Single Parent Moon Landing: Into the Sea of Tranquility

WHOLE-tranquility

On July 20, 1969, at 20:18 UTC, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made a smooth touchdown as the first humans on the moon. Armstrong told flight controllers on Earth, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

“I’m going to the moon and I’m taking…”

When everything in your life is threatened or taken away you get stripped down to the basics rather quickly. What is important in your life? It’s not the things. It’s not your house or your car. It’s not even your own happiness. Those things are malleable, flexible, discardable.

What you discover in the event of a massive crisis is how to continue to command your crew even if you have lost your rocket ship. When I lost everything again and I was stripped down to the basics as a man, a father, and a spiritual being, I learned that the most important thing after survival was not my happiness. And actually, it was not even the happiness of my children. I could not control that, or make any other person happy. What I discovered in the vacuum of deep space (divorce) was the most important mission in my life.

As a man, I was forced to simply give up my pride and self-esteem and focus on survival instead.

My role is to lead and support my children through tangles, roughs, and snares. And in this leadership, I must always demonstrate positive momentum, optimism, and hope. Even when our ship disintegrated around us and we were forced to abandon our plans, we did not, I did not, abandon hope. I learned that beyond everything, even (in some cases) beyond my own health and wellbeing, my mission was to set an example for my children about how to live in a world of uncertainty, setbacks, and absolute disappointments.

Unless you’ve been through it, you can’t really understand what the feeling is like, this total loss of control in divorce. When things have spun dangerously out of orbit and you realize the only course of action is to abandon ship, the feeling of anxiety in the free fall into deep and lonely space is overwhelming. In the first part of the divorce one of you is asked to leave the capsule and make their way alone, in deep space. When I left behind my house, my wife, and my kids, and slept at my sister’s house for the first time, I had entered the moment of great darkness and angst. And in the following months I struggled through many dark nights of the soul. Even as my old family was intact, as if I were just on vacation or a secret mission, I could only look back at the life I had created and wonder if I would ever see such joy and wholeness again.

This is not melodramatic. Perhaps it is the “feeling” captain’s log. But the reality is this: the father in divorce usually gets the order to abandon ship. The trick is not abandon hope. The only way forward is to lead in spite of the loss, and lead by example, as your kids are watching in some small state of panic of their own, you can not waiver. The true captain must show the entire family what strength and positive perseverance looks like. That is the only way forward. Your resilience and resurrection is the new prime directive. And by leading your fractured family with grace and patience, you can help everyone, even your ex-partner, who is struggling with their own internal issues. Everyone is redrawing their own navigational maps. The captain has the responsibility to keep the metamap for everyone, and maintain focus on the way ahead, the way to survival first and a return to joy second.

What you learn, is that even from outside the mothership, you are still the head of household, you are still the captain. The sooner you get over your own desperation, the sooner you can begin contributing to the health and wellbeing of everyone involved. It sucks sometimes to have to be the bigger person in the throes of divorce. But the alternative is what? Self-pity and sadness. Both temporary states we all go through from time to time, but not where we want to live.

So back to our tale of space travel and togetherness.

The ship was no longer functional and life support systems were beginning to fail, and so last March, 11 months ago, I sold my house to avoid losing it in foreclosure. That was not in any of my instruction manuals for being a good parent, a good man, or a competent captain. We were in uncharted territory and in the next move I knew I would be required to sustain the optimism for the entire family. My ex was not winning in this unexpected loss either, though she was still observing everything safely from the original mission control center. Like space travel, divorce is not about what’s fair.

Moving back to your mother’s house at 51 is a real humdinger of a disappointment. As a man, I was forced to simply give up my pride and self-esteem and focus on survival instead. For a moment, at the beginning, it felt a bit like the initial separation of the divorce, but there was a distinct difference. During the four years of recovery I had learned how to sublimate my own wants and desires in order to support and show up for my kids as Dad, no matter what. No matter what the situation, I could remain Captain Kirk for them. Through alien planets and hostile environments I would be the person calling to get us all “beamed up.”

What we have is each other and hopefulness. With clear leadership and discipline, everything will eventually be set right again.

Again, my struggle when the kids were not around was mine alone. The brave face I projected at all times was not one of stoicism but optimism. I was able to share with the kids a bit about what was happening. We talked about how the little house was not really right for us. We talked about how our next house (still the “other house” for them) would be a better fit. We crash landed in the Sea of Tranquility but we remained upbeat and happy to be together.

Maybe that was one of the advantages of still being alone at this time. I had time to grieve again. I had to renegotiate with myself about what was critical path and what was non-essential. I had to come up with a new Modus Operandi. Mine would be kid’s first, everything else second.

In this new episode, I had to reinvent myself.

  • I could only focus on my own actions.
  • I had to take responsibility for my physical, mental, and spiritual health.
  • I recommitted to transforming my work into a larger cashflow.
  • I lost all pretense about how successful I was.
  • I focused on my own creative output.
  • I took every opportunity to engage and be present for my kids.

But we were about to hit one more snag.

In the process of depressurization and rapid evacuation it was necessary to place 90% of our gear in a storage facility. And over the course of the next few months my financial situation ebbed and waned. And in my hyper-focus on survival skills I ignored a few nagging bills for a month or two. And when in November, when my daughter and I headed out to the storage unit to pick up the juicer, we discovered that everything had been lost. Even though their emailed invoices to me said nothing about legal action or “auction” the storage facility had taken the opportunity, with a $350+ amount owed, to sell off everything I owned.

Though I had no map for the road ahead, I did have my own core happiness and strength.

In that very moment, with my 11 yo daughter by my side, I responded as Kirk would. “How very interesting. Time for a new plan.” I didn’t even break stride. I laughed with her about needing to find another juicer.

What we had at that moment was each other. And what I knew at that moment was I would do fine with nothing, again. I had been here before. I had survived. This time I already knew what great loss felt like and I knew I could navigate and survive this as a minor setback not as a crisis. Even as we were driving away from the storage facility I was telling my daughter how it was going to be a lot easier moving into a new place when we didn’t need to hire a moving service. “All that stuff can be replaced. It’s not a big deal.”

It was kind of a big deal. It put my escape trajectory on a steeper course. But it also pointed out, once and for all, to me and my kids, that WE ARE NOT OUR THINGS. What we have is each other and hopefulness. With clear leadership and discipline, everything will eventually be set right again.

Something clicked into place for me over the next few hours. I was stripped clean. I had no house. I had no worldly  possessions. I didn’t have any options other than perseverance and joy. Despair was not an option. I’d already done that and it didn’t serve me very well.

Though I had no map for the road ahead, I did have my own core happiness and strength. And even though the future had suddenly appeared darker and more ominous I responded with laughter. The situation was not funny. But the hopefulness that bloomed in spite of the loss, right in the very moment that it was happening… The optimism I was able to give to my daughter, in the moment we discovered everything was gone, and she appeared slightly frightened and unsure of how to react…

Tweet: Though I had no map for the road ahead, I did have my own core happiness and strength. http://bit.ly/1t1HOYk From @wholeparent

That moment, that optimistic approach to catastrophic failure was one of the shining moments of my rebirth as a leader. Captain Kirk would be proud.

But wait… There’s more… To be continued shortly…

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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