Life’s Biggest Adversities

I recently watched Sheryl Sandberg’s graduation speech on how to deal with life’s biggest adversities. It’s a powerful talk, and I’d encourage anyone reading this to watch the whole thing.

Many of us have lived through adversity like this, my family and I included. My mom and dad both went through divorces in their early 30’s before meeting each other. In 2008, my younger sister Keenan passed away while on a trip to Nepal. More recently, my longtime girlfriend and I went through two separate breakups. It’s telling that these profound adversities are all people-related, not profession or material related. The people we surround ourselves with give us the love, strength, and energy to become our own great person, so we can go on to do great things. They provide meaning to our life. So when one of these people we care so deeply about vanishes, that love, strength, and energy they gave us seems to vanish with them. That’s where I think the seemingly unbearable pain we feel comes from.

As Sheryl says in her talk, it’s how we deal with these adversities that shapes who we are. When Keenan died, I didn’t know the proper way to grieve. Maybe I was too young, or maybe you never know how until you’ve been through a tragedy once before. When my girlfriend and I separated, I felt just as heartbroken as the day I found out about Keenan. I felt the same emptiness I did when Mom and Dad sat me down on a hotel bed in New York City eight years ago to tell me my sister was gone. But this time, I recognized the pain, and though I let it consume me for awhile, I knew it would eventually get better. And it’s starting to.

A few weeks ago, I emailed my sister Devon congratulating her on landing a summer internship at HBO. She is an incredibly smart girl and has a very bright future ahead of her. Our parents have given her the love, strength, and energy to do great things. As an older brother, I couldn’t be more proud of her. But as an older brother, I cautioned her that she will almost certainly face profound adversity again in her life. My only advice was to not let the sadness consume her, and know that whatever pain she feels will not last forever. She should remind herself of all the happiness and opportunity she’s been blessed with in other parts of her life. Devon is incredibly resilient, perhaps more so than anyone else I know. She will use that resilience to find strength when hardship comes knocking.

In taking my own advice, I want to remind myself of all the happiness and opportunity I’ve been blessed with. I don’t say this enough, but I’m so grateful to have such a wonderful and loving Mom, Dad, and sister. I can always count on the three of them to be there for me, no matter what. I am who I am today because of them.

Thank you Mom, Dad, and Devon for all of the love and support you’ve given me these past 30 years. I do not take it for granted.