Whenever we go through a life changing event or period, I feel it is essential to spend some time looking back to reflect on what happened, how we handled it, and how we grew from it. What did we learn?
Being sidelined with a shoulder injury, surgery and recovery period has been one of the more difficult and rewarding experiences I have been through. My accident happened at the worst possible time, and unfortunately, I had no plan B.
I needed surgery and I needed recovery time. I would lose the function of my left shoulder, arm, and hand, and I would need to teach them all how to work again. I would lose the athletic ability I depend on to keep me with the action, then I would need to work hard to get that back too.
There was a long list of things that I would need to do, but I never once considered how this would all change me as a person.
In my own mind, I was already a very well put together person. I had experienced a lot of hardships and tests of will before, so I didn’t think anything more of it. This was just going to be another speed bump in the journey.
Now, four months later, I have learned a thing or two and I feel I have changed into a newer version of my previous self.
I have learned patience.
Patience is something I thought I had a lot of, but what I had was patience for others or for outside circumstances. I didn’t have patience for myself. I have been very strict with myself in my efforts to push forward in this career and life that I love. It was all part of staying on track to accomplish the things I wish to achieve. Unfortunately, that also means I don’t (or didn’t) cut myself any slack. I had always seen that as a weakness or an easy way to make excuses.
I was wrong. Instead of being a positive motivator, it became a negative source of pressure and stress.
No matter how much patience we have with the world, or how much esteem we have for ourselves, we do all screw up. I felt I had screwed up in a few ways to end up in the predicament I was in, but there was no point in being upset with myself. There was no point in being upset with anyone else either. Patience and understanding for myself and for my scenario was the only good option.
I have learned how to appreciate the little things, to be present and to be content.
No matter how quickly things have happened for me in the past, they never happened fast enough. I was always looking ahead toward bigger goals and ideas as a way of motivating myself, but also as a way of living in a future life that I didn’t quite have. I have talked over and over about being present and living life right now, but I myself was always looking forward, trying to get to some unknown point in my life. Perhaps I was aiming for a place and time where everything would be less of a struggle.
That is pointless. Life happens right now, and that is really all we need to be concerned about.
To that end, I usually have a really hard time being restricted when the conditions are right for a sport or activity that I love doing. An example would be spring runoff for kayaking, especially when all I see on Facebook are pictures of my friends kayaking and hanging out in beautiful places.
This year the snow came and went, the water came and went, and now it’s summer, and that is going too. I have missed all of the things I would have normally participated in, and all of the friends I would have been able to see, but I have also found peace, contentment and appreciation for the little things. I have never been able to sit still for very long, but now I can sit on a dock for hours and revel in the warm feeling of sunshine on my face and my lady next to me.
I have learned how to treat people who have their lives put on hold and bodies that don’t let them do what they want. I learned how quickly you disappear from the radar when you are not able to proactively engage with your friends. I used that to reflect on the times my friends have been injured or sick and realized that I have been a fair weather friend to some people in the past. Out of sight, out of mind.
That’s on me guys, I apologize for not putting more effort into bringing a little bit more comfort, compassion or company into your lives when you were down. That will not be something I repeat and I truly am sorry.
I have learned the power of re-evaluation.
I typically spend time re-evaluating my goals once or twice a year, then I re-organize my efforts based on new directions. This time, I was forced into an early re-evaluation period, and it turned out to be one of the best things for me.
Being sidelined has helped me see different elements of the path I was on, and the path I actually want to be on. It helped me prioritize what is most important to me, and being on this path now, I can never go back to the tunnel vision I had before. It’s kind of like going from a long lens far from the action to a wide lens in the thick of it!
I have learned about being vulnerable enough to ask for help.
Yep, that sounds pretty darn simple but it hasn’t been for me in the past. I have had no problem expressing vulnerabilities in other areas, but needing help physically has been something I have never been able to deal with. So much that I didn’t even tell the group I was shooting with that I had a bone sticking out of my shoulder after my accident. I simply told them I was out of time and needed to go, then got myself down the mountain and drove myself to the hospital, refusing help along the way.
Those were some bad decisions, but it goes to show how afraid I was to be viewed as the weakest link. I have helped countless people in the past, and never once viewed them as a weaker person just because they were in a state that required assistance, but for whatever reason, that is how I viewed myself.
After months of needing help with everything from putting my pants on to tying my shoes to washing my armpit or cutting my food, I am over it. We all need a little help sometimes. The weaklings are the ones not willing to ask for it.
Finally, I have learned about acceptance and letting go.
I would be remiss to say that I accepted all of this as easily as I may have portrayed in this post or in others like it. The truth is that I had a number of days that I am not proud of.
I had more big job opportunities offered to me in this time period than in the previous two years combined. I gave up those opportunities and watched from my recliner as other photographers filled my role and were given accolades for their work.
I also witnessed (in person and on social media) people complaining about very trivial things. I seriously wanted to punch every photographer who complained about a lost bag or flight delay while traveling to an assignment I had been working for ten years to shoot.
In short, it wasn’t easy. I was angry at times and jealous at other times. I found some new lows, but in the process I also learned that I didn’t want to be like that, ever. I never wanted to be an angry or jealous person. I didn’t want my desire and my own career goals to create negative feelings toward others. Other people would take opportunities presented to them just as I would. I accepted that and I let go of whatever emotions had been stirring.
The point in all of this rambling is that I have learned. This experience could have been completely miserable, but instead, it is something I would never change. I don’t want to be the person I was before all of this, I want to be the person I am now, and the person I will be the next time I have to face another life challenge.
I am a strong believer that we must keep learning, we must keep shifting shapes and perspectives, and we must keep growing.
I now have a nice big scar that reminds me of that everyday J.
(iPhone picture of my zipper.)