Back when I was serving as VP of Resources for Living, the employee assistance program for Wal-Mart, Kroger, Bridgestone, and other Fortune 500 companies, a young African American woman(I knew this because she told me so) called called our service and I happened to be available to take her call. She was terribly distraught. She was crying uncontrollably for the first few minutes of the call. When she was finally able to talk she told me that she was considering taking her own life. She said that her mother had kicked her out of her house and that she was now living with a relative. She said she did not know why her mother was so angry or what to do to rebuild this relationship, because her mother refused to speak with her. She simply felt helpless and hopeless.
As a counselor, I wanted to know about her resources and support system, so I began to ask questions that would give me insight into these things that I knew would be essential to her future well-being. I affirmed her relationship with her aunt and she agreed by indicating that they had a loving relationship, and had been told that she could stay as long as necessary. When I asked about her job she said she had a good job, enjoyed her work and had a lot of good friends there. This led me to believe she probably had completed high school so I asked about her school experience and about friends that she may have carried over from highschool. She said that most of her friends in high school took a different path than she, became pregnant, were on welfare or involved in drugs. I commended her for completing high school and asked her what motivated her to take a different path.. She said she completed school with good grades in order to compete as an athlete in track & field. She said she still keeps up with her fitness by running three miles every day. I commended her and told her that this really is unique compared to most people her age.
She turned the conversation back to her accomplishments at school. She said that the athletic competition motivated her to stay focused academically since good grades were required to compete. I asked how well she did in her track experience. She said she had won several competitions and had actually been offered a full scholarship to a nearby college. I again commended her with an amazement at her accomplishments and asked if she planned to attend college. She said she was not sure, but, now that it was on her mind, she would consider checking into it further.
After about a half hour into our conversation, she stopped me and said she had to go get a pen and paper, and quickly dropped the phone and then returned. I asked what that was all about. She said that the felt better than she had in weeks. I could tell that her mood had changed significantly from the beginning of the conversation. She said that she was so THANKFUL for our conversation, and went on to say that no one had ever told her all the things that I had told her and that she wanted to write them all down. I responded by informing her that I had told her nothing, but that it was she that had told of all her accomplishments, and of all the positive things in her life. All I did was ask a few questions. She excitedly agreed. She said that she really wanted to keep these things in the forefront of her thinking and said she was going to list these on a piece of paper and tape it to her bathroom mirror so she could read them every day before she left her house. She said she wanted to be reminded that she is worthwhile, unique, quite talented, and has so much to live for and to be THANKFUL for.
Think about it. She had:
- A loving and supportive relationship with her aunt
- A good job which provided resources to provide for herself
- She had good support from friends at work as well
- She had achieve significant success where others of her peers had not
- She had completed high school where others had dropped out
- She had achieve success in track and field
She had opportuities waiting for her in the form of a scholarship
She was capable of making great choices and overcoming personal challenges
Since we had not talked much about her mother, I asked again about it. She said that she still did not have a good answer for that, but that she was certain that she would be okay even if things did not get better between them. I suggested she call again to discover some ways she could try to work things out with her mother. I also asked about her suicidal thoughts and she said that she no longer felt badly enough to harm herself. in fact, she said she felt quite hopeful about her life and her future.
Three weeks passed before I heard from her again. She said that she was doing really well. She said she still lived with her aunt, and that her relationship with her mother was slowly improving. She said she still sees the list every morning and is reminded that even when a few things are not going well, that there are a lot of other good things about her life that she can be THANKFUL for and on which she can focus.
This person has been an inspiration to me since that call. You see, THANKFULNESS is simply a matter of selective reflection. What she had chosen to reflect on before our call had overwhelmed her. Was it a problem? Certainly. But it can only overshadow the strengths and resources she had if she allowed it to. She shifted her focus to her strengths and resources and used those to give her the strength to handle the challenges she faced. Now that is a skill she can use for a lifetime.
No one’s life is a rose garden. Use this holiday season to take some time to reflect on the things you CAN be thankful, and use those resources to tackle the challenges that life throws at you.