As Forrest Gump famously said: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”
Personally, I like to think of life as a game of Snakes and Ladders. This is something I remember playing when I was young. It’s a very simple game. You throw dice to see how many squares to move your marker. If you land on the head of a snake, you slide down to wherever the end of the tail is. If you find yourself at the bottom of a ladder, you get to climb up. Because the winner is the person who gets to the end first, the snakes are seen as bad and the ladders as good.
As you move through life, you never know if you’ll find yourself moving in what feels like a backward direction or be presented with an opportunity to move ahead more quickly than you anticipated.
When my Dad died in March, I landed on a snake of sorts. It felt like I’d been propelled backwards as I suddenly had to readjust my life to deal with this change in circumstance. It didn’t stop me; it just changed the course I was on and meant I had to put some aspects of my life on hold.
Two weeks before Christmas, I stepped onto the head of another slippery snake and found myself transported to an unforeseen, and in many ways unwelcome, location. This time it was the result of my mom’s death.
It wasn’t unexpected as she was in her nineties, but it was definitely a surprise. She’d been feeling a little under the weather but not sick. She died peacefully in her sleep, 40 weeks to the day after my dad passed.
This is the reason I haven’t been writing The Happiness Connection for the past five weeks. I decided the kindest thing I could do for myself was to enjoy every minute I had with my children and take some space for me.
I know I’m not the only person who experienced life’s version of stepping on the head of a long twisty serpent during the holiday period. There are lots of ways to suddenly find yourself somewhere you hadn’t expected—and don’t want to be. It’s a natural part of life.
I thought I’d share some of the things I’m reminding myself about in life’s game of Snakes and Ladders in case you need to hear them, too.
• Don’t spend time trying to avoid the snakes, you can’t. Regardless of how careful you are, they will show up when you least expect it. Accept them as part of your experience. They have a lot to teach you and can help you learn to live in the moment.
• Trust that there are not only snakes for you to slide down, but there are also ladders that will give you a leg-up when you need it. In my experience, these often appear in the shape of people who are generous with their time, support, and expertise.
• Be grateful when you find yourself at the bottom of a ladder. Have the courage to climb up, trusting that you’ll be able to deal with whatever you find at the top.
• Live one day at a time. Don’t let your mind go to the land of what if’s or feel overwhelmed by looking at everything you have to accomplish, at one time.
• Breath slowly and deeply and be kind to yourself. Take the time you need to maintain your physical and mental health.
It’s impossible to avoid challenges and loss in life. Some people have less of it to deal with than others, but it’s part of the human life cycle. You can’t avoid the snakes and there will always be ladders if you look for them.
Above all, rather than wishing things were different, do your best to enjoy what is.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.