When Tyler Butler-Figueroa was 4 and a half years old, he was diagnosed with leukemia. He came close to dying several times during his long treatment. When he was well enough to go to school, he was bullied for having no hair, and a rumor spread that his cancer was contagious so everyone stayed away from him. He became discouraged and wanted to give up on everything. One day he noticed a flyer about a program for kids who wanted to learn to play an instrument. A violin caught his eye and he asked to try the program.
Tyler discovered he could pour all his emotions into the violin, and slowly his feelings evolved from depression to joy as he experienced the pleasure of expressing his new-found love of life. Soon he was combining music and dance steps with playful enthusiasm. His musical talent brought him to the America’s Got Talent television program at age 11, where he qualified for finals. He brought the house down with his performance, and the judges thanked him for taking something intensely difficult and turning it into inspiring music and dance. Tyler’s comment was, “I used to be the kid with cancer, now I’m the kid who plays violin.”
At age 18, Mandy Harvey lost her hearing because of a connective tissue disorder. She had been singing since age 4 and her dream was to sing professionally, but her vocal training stopped when she became deaf. Her first reaction was to give up in discouragement. After a year she began carefully experimenting to see if there was another way she could still feel and hear music. Using muscle memory and vibrations, she slowly began to reconnect with her treasured notes.
Then she composed her own song titled “Try.” It was her way of saying she wanted to do more with her life than give up, so she took the word “try” as her word for doing what she wanted with her life, in spite of her impairment. At age 21 she competed on America’s Got Talent and, as she stood on the platform in her stocking feet (so she could feel the vibrations), playing her guitar and singing, she brought the judges to tears with the quality and inspiring message of her music. She, too, qualified for finals.
John F. Kennedy wrote, “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters – one represents danger, the other represents opportunity.” We have all experienced changes in our lives that have challenged us to our very core. When those troubling, unwanted experiences take us out of our comfort zone, we can choose to give up or we can optimize our new opportunity.
Here are a few suggestions to move from the challenge into the opportunity. What we focus on makes all the difference. If we focus on fear and anxiety, we will create a sense of despair that will leave us feeling powerless. Deliberately changing our focus to exploring opportunities inherent in a crisis will move us into a state of empowerment, strength, and action, as seen in the stories of Tyler and Mandy.
We also need to be honest with ourselves and identify our true feelings. Embracing our discouragement or sadness is part of being true to ourselves, which makes it easier to enter into the transformation process. Next, we need to stop resisting unwanted change. This calls for a perspective acknowledging that somewhere in the big picture is a gift waiting to be unwrapped. Mary Roberts Rinehart writes, “Every crucial experience can be regarded as a setback, or the start of a wonderful new adventure, it depends on your perspective.”
Another way to find the disguised opportunity is to be open and ready to move on from the point of crisis. This willingness to move on will help keep us from getting stuck. We need to release our hold on loss before we can embrace our relationship with opportunity. Our curiosity can help us embrace new ideas, which can lead to reflecting on how we would like to do things differently. Obstacles can present us with open time we didn’t have before, so we can explore new skills or complete projects that have been waiting. I’m tackling all kinds of projects around our home that were on hold before COVID-19 arrived (a photography project is next). Bernice Johnson Reagon writes, “Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” That’s exactly what Tyler and Mandy did. Let’s take life’s challenges and look for every opportunity offered, no matter how disguised they may be. Each one is a gift.
Until Next Time – Sylvia