I read somewhere that getting divorced teaches you how to be married. I agree. I learned more about marriage by going through a divorce than I ever did from therapists, psychologists, friends, family, or self-help books.
Not only did I learn about marriage, I learned more about myself than I had in years.
You may be wondering what any of this has to do with career/business coaching. Well, many of my clients come to me because they are transitioning into different careers. Because they are at a crossroads in their life. I never ask about their personal life unless they want to discuss it, but when they do, they are usually at a crossroads there, too. Finalizing a divorce. Beginning to date again. There are exceptions, of course, but I ran the numbers. About 1/3 of my clients are married while the other 2/3 are single, which includes divorced, dating, and never been married.
If they ask me about my personal life, I’m open about it. I’m divorced. So what? I don’t believe just because our marriage didn’t work out, my ex-husband and I failed. I’m not sure our marriage failed because it worked for a period. But in our society, we view divorce as a failure. Have you ever heard that phrase, “I don’t fail. I either win or I learn.” Yeah, well, I learned.
Seven things my divorce taught me
1. I learned to pay attention to red flags.
Pay attention to any red flags in your relationship. I don’t want this post to be a man-hating bash about my ex-husband so I won’t get specific. For me, there were three red flags in our relationship. One existed from the beginning. One existed after he proposed. The third one existed but I ignored or excused it because I loved him. He’s a good man. Yet, I had a 10-second panic attack before I walked down the aisle. No one saw me hesitate, but I did. Instead of facing the truth, I pushed those red flags deep down inside of me. I experienced a wonderful wedding. I endured a tumultuous marriage full of too many highs and lows. I love roller coaster rides, but in real life, I prefer a log ride. Little bumpy and wet but it has fewer ups and downs, and it ends with a big splash.
2. I learned to live alone.
Before my divorce, I had never lived alone. I know how crazy that sounds, but Los Angeles is very expensive. When I wasn’t living with roommates, housemates, boyfriends, or my husband, I was raising my younger sister Adrienne. I may have been the only adult in the house, but I still had her. I was often lonely, but I was never alone. Never. I had time to myself. After she would fall asleep, I would stay up reading, writing, or lost in thought. But having some ‘me time’ with a child in the house is not the same as living alone.
After my divorce, I lived alone for the first time in my life. My cat kept me company, but I spent hours by myself. I didn’t own a television, but I watched TV online. When I began bingeing too much on Netflix, I canceled my subscription. I didn’t want to spend every evening watching TV. I wanted to work on my businesses. I wanted to read. I wanted to get reacquainted with me. I discovered something remarkable. I enjoy my own company. There is a difference between solitude and loneliness.
3. I learned to make new friends.
My ex-husband and I didn’t have many couple friends. He had his friends. I had my friends. He worked in the entertainment industry so he had a whole network of friends from Tier 1 – Tier 3. I had quit the entertainment industry and hated the plastic, fake, Hollywood culture. Most of my closest friends didn’t live in Los Angeles. We kept in touch, but I rarely saw them. I don’t have much patience for acquaintances (i.e., Tier 3) though I understand they serve a purpose. If my ex-husband and I went out with friends, we spent time with his friends, whom I liked but they were still not my friends. My ex-husband and I were best friends, but as we discovered, being best friends and spouses put too much pressure on our marriage. (Spouses should be best friends is the #1 marital myth I believed.)
I’m friendly but making new friends in a new town over the age of 40 daunted me. You cannot force a friendship, but you can put yourself out there. I got involved in the yoga community. I joined several Meetup groups. I became the organizer of the Birmingham Art Lovers Meetup group for one year. Through that group, I met one of the most amazing women ever. She is like my soul sister. We clicked from the moment we met. Turns out, you are never too old to make new friends.
4. I learned to change my mindset from surviving to thriving.
Before I was married, I supported myself. I usually had several jobs, but I managed to pay my bills. I prided myself on being a survivor. In my previous relationship, we split joint expenses (e.g., rent, utilities) 50-50 even though my boyfriend made twice as much as I did. In addition, I supported my sister. Looking back, I’m not sure he and I had the best financial relationship, but it worked at the time.
During our marriage, my husband was the primary breadwinner, which was fine with both of us, until things didn’t work out the way we had planned. Between the WGA writer’s strike, the economy, health issues, disability, unemployment, and pet debt, we struggled. A lot. We were never without food, shelter, or clothing, but we both had our pity party moments. We wanted to improve our situation, but we lacked the tools and mentors to do so. We were also stuck in a scarcity and surviving mindset, instead of an abundance and thriving mindset.
Whenever I catch myself falling back into that desperate way of thinking, I remember how it felt all of those years. Like a hamster running on a wheel and going nowhere.
5. I re-learned to create my own opportunities.
I say relearned because when I was acting in my twenties, I created my own opportunities. In May 1998, I pitched a story to my writing group. The leader challenged me to write it as a play. I wrote, directed, produced, and acted in the play. From start to finish, the play took up a year of my life. By the end, I was so burned out that I missed several opportunities from producers who wanted me to turn it into a screenplay. However, that play led to theatrical directing gigs for several years, some of which paid a small stipend. The last play I directed opened the weekend before my sister was diagnosed with cancer. After she died, I created Blue Faery: The Adrienne Wilson Liver Cancer Association, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting liver cancer.
During my marriage, I lost all entrepreneurial energy — that desire to shape my destiny. It came back briefly when my ex-husband and I considered starting a small business, but we didn’t pursue it. Though we had a great product in a market that seemed immune to the economic downturn, I felt we didn’t have enough resources (i.e., people, money). Neither one of us was willing to move forward so we put away our research, our ideas, and our product.
I looked for a job when I moved to Alabama, and I almost became the State Program Director for a prominent nonprofit. However, I knew five minutes into the fourth interview the regional managers would not hire me. They saw me as an outsider, and as I suspected, the company hired one of its own staff. Getting that close to a good job and losing it was a great reminder I don’t want to work for someone else (with few exceptions). I hate sitting behind a desk all day long. From that moment on, I’ve had to hustle, hustle, hustle.
Since starting my business and getting my coaching certification, I’ve created two live workshop series, and a third one is debuting in March. I also created a Jump Start Your Job Search VIP Intensive for individual clients who are ready to take their job search to the next level. I redid my website four months ago to launch my new company and began my BLISSS Tips biweekly newsletter. Due to demand, I added a new Killer Resume package that has a lower price point than my VIP Intensive. Now I’m working on increasing my email list subscribers, building my online BLISSS Builder community, and creating a DIY Jump Start Your Job Search online course. Plus, I’m managing Blue Faery. In May, I’m launching a video/podcast series that connects both my businesses. Stay tuned!
I still feel like I’m running all the time, but now I’m going toward my future. No more hamster on a wheel.
6. I learned I possess enough courage, strength, and power to take on the world.
Three years ago, a fellow patient advocate asked me, “Do you have any idea how powerful you are?”
The question stunned me. It was November 2013. I felt broke, unhealthy, and stuck. What did she see in me? Then again, we had only met hours before. When I saw her the following year, I asked her if she remembered that question. She did. What did you mean by it? I asked her. She went over several aspects of my life story. Raising my sister Adrienne. Fighting our mother in court for custody. Losing Adrienne to liver cancer. Starting Blue Faery. Going back to school. I nodded. I knew my own story. Nothing out of the ordinary in my mind. We stopped walking. She turned to me.
“Let’s put it this way,” she said. “I don’t ever want to be in a street fight with you. You’re a badass. You’re tough. You went up against your mother. In court. For custody of your sister. When you set your mind on doing something, you do it.”
I have thanked her many times for reminding me of my own power during one of the lowest points of my life. When I was married, I depended too much on my husband, especially when my health wasn’t good. As a result, I began to feel helpless. I thought I wasn’t tough anymore. As I was driving across the country to begin my new life, I challenged the universe. (Note: I do not recommend this course of action.) Prove to me that I’m tough. Well, the universe listened. In my first month in Alabama,
- My apartment didn’t look anything like the photos online. I burst into tears when I saw it. (December 6, 2014)
- The movers broke half of my furniture and damaged almost everything else. Only my sofa, mattress, and jewelry box remained 100-percent intact. (December 9, 2014)
- I almost got a good job and then didn’t, which is now a blessing but I didn’t think so at the time. (January 9, 2015)
- My first power bill was over $300, excluding the deposit, for an 800-square foot apartment. (January 21, 2015)
- The United States Postal Service lost all of my nonprofit’s mail during our annual campaign. I have no idea how much money my nonprofit lost in contributions. (December 2014 – January 2015)
Incidents continued to happen including a glass fixture shattering all over my head, my cat meeting fleas for the first time in her life, and a mama possum building a nest and having eight babies underneath my dishwasher. After catching and removing four baby possums with the assistance of my cat who always found them, I gave myself the hashtag #semipropossumcatcher. Occasionally, I would yell, “Okay, universe. You can stop now. I realize I’m tough. I’m strong. I’m brave. Lay off for a while.”
Recommended Photos: PossumGate 2016
7. I learned I am worthy. Of love. Of success. Of happiness.
“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” — Buddha
When my sister Adrienne died, a piece of me died with her. Being her parent was the most important role in my life. When that role disappeared, I lost who I was. Within a few years, I lost interest in acting, too, which I thought would be my career. I met my ex-husband, who is not an actor, on the television show 24. Our relationship began and blossomed in Hollywood, the land of dreams. When your dreams change, however, you begin to change.
Throughout my thirties, I reinvented myself. By the time I got married, I was working on a research study at UCLA and managing Blue Faery, my small nonprofit that no one had yet heard of. I hated running but I completed six marathons and a half marathon over a four-year period to raise money for Blue Faery. I began graduate school the week before my wedding. I give my ex-husband a lot of credit for going along for the ride. He didn’t agree with every decision I made, but he usually supported me.
During the first half of our marriage, I challenged and pushed myself all the time. After four years, I crashed and burned in 2010. Too many terrible things happened in too short of a time and I couldn’t take it anymore. Also, I was running away from grief and you cannot outrun grief. It follows you everywhere. When I gave up and into my grief, I spiraled into a dark depression that was awful but needed to happen. When I came out the other side about 19 months later, I had finally accepted a life without my sister.
In that abyss of sadness, I began to face who I was. I stopped trying to be perfect. I stopped saying ‘Yes’ to everyone. I stopped worrying about what my dad thought. I realized I liked my good qualities and even the bad ones, too. I began loving myself. Again. It didn’t happen overnight, but I embraced who I was and said what I felt because according to Dr. Seuss, “Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Loving myself gave me clarity about every relationship in my life.
As my ex-husband once said, “Getting a divorce is like removing a tattoo. Both are expensive, painful, and time-consuming.” (We have tattoos of each other’s signatures.)
I would never suggest to any of my clients that they divorce. However, I believe you can learn from your divorce. I didn’t get married to get divorced. Despite our problems, I believed my ex-husband and I could work them out. We loved each other and we were determined to find solutions. However, a minor thing happened and I knew it was over. Many similar minor things had occurred for years, but when the last incident happened, something was different: me. Finally, I loved myself enough to feel worthy of happiness. As much as I hated the idea of ending my marriage and losing my best friend, I knew I would not be happy with him. I didn’t think he would be happy with me either.
When you experience self-love, you feel worthy of other people’s love. You feel worthy of success. You feel worthy of happiness. The irony is my divorce taught me I am worthy.