Ask An Expert: I’ve Been Forced To Give Up My Passion. How Can I Stay Positive?

Collage / Julia Gessler

Disability advocate, breast cancer and heart-attack survivor and author Minnie Baragwanath helps a reader reframe a crisis.

Q: I was recently diagnosed with a back problem that means I will have to give up long-distance running, something I’ve done competitively since I was young. I am devastated by the possibility

A: I am so sorry to hear about your situation. It sounds very challenging and quite confronting for you. I would never want to presume to know exactly what it is you are going through and how you are feeling; this is a very individual experience.

What I can do is share some of my strategies for navigating difficult times of loss, moments of dramatic health issues, and other life events that can deeply challenge our identity and sense of who we are in the world. Perhaps it might provide some solace or might resonate with you in some way that is helpful and meaningful.

In my experience, times of major crisis in our lives are always an extraordinary opportunity to re-evaluate our lives and ourselves. I would advise always finding a way to look both inward and outward and to ask ourselves the difficult questions: What is going on here? Why am I feeling this way? What can I learn from this and how can I grow? What is my stuff, and what absolutely is not mine and is being projected on to me by others around me (no matter how well intended)?

One of the greatest gifts I got from my experience with breast cancer was my connection with my counsellor, an amazing woman I still work with nearly eight years later. “With” (I will come back to “with”) her support and expertise, I have been able to unpack and make sense of some very difficult times in my life and to offer those experiences and insights up to others.

I have found it helpful when going through hard times, and particularly with cancer, putting into practice a gratitude journal where every day I wrote down the things I was grateful for. This helped me keep a positive mindset as I navigated change and loss.

I also have developed a deep sense of trust that somehow, things will work out. Just because we cannot currently see how they will work out does not matter. With faith and trust, things will be okay — they may be different, but they will be okay.

I also now look at every experience as a way for me to learn and grow as a person. I believe that learning, and hopefully becoming a better, more compassionate person over time, is one of the reasons we are placed on this earth; every difficulty gives us an opportunity to deepen our ability to feel, to empathise, and to show up as a deeply caring human. I draw on this life philosophy to support me during the darkest times.

And simply having people and things around me who make me laugh and feel joy is essential. I am very blessed to have a great sense of humour and it really shows up in wild and outrageously challenging times.

Among all of this is the way of thinking I have cultivated, which I call the “possibility mindset” — this allows me to imagine all the rich possibilities that exist for me as a blind woman and entrepreneur. This possibility worldview has helped me navigate breast cancer, pulmonary embolism, and a heart attack. It is not about denying the pain of loss in our lives. It is about knowing when we need to let go, to surrender to change, to gradually open up the new and the possible, and to embrace the new and the unexpected.

Living with possibility also means surrounding yourself with people who do not take on board the limiting beliefs of society but who want the best for you and are prepared to walk “with” you as you pioneer new ground and new opportunities together. Having these people around enables us to be both brave and vulnerable enough to share how we are truly feeling with them and to be able to ask for what we need, confident in the power of “with” to create a better, more equitable future together.

Minnie Baragwanath is a coach, consultant and social innovator, and the author behind the new book, Blindingly Obvious, about her life as a blind woman, her thoughts on possibility and the concept of “with”. Over the years, Minnie has been awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit, the Sir Peter Blake Leadership Award, the Westpac Women of Influence Diversity Award, the Zonta Women’s Award and was placed as a top 10 finalist for the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.

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