Embracing Option B: A Fresh Perspective on Loss, Adversity & Change


Something clicked for me last month. It was a combination of conversations, experiences and ultimately, coming across a book in the airport. It’s all given me a fresh perspective on how I’m living life today – and facing the future. That fresh perspective is bringing about greater confidence, hope and inspiration.

A year ago, I made a decision and commitment to pursue my passion for photography as a business, with the goal of being profitable in 2-3 years. As I’ve shared before, that is a big step for me – and a big departure from the first half of my life, where I spent my working time in corporate America. But even with that decision, I’ve struggled to see this step as anything other than a step down – something less than – not as good as – my “first option” – the career path my education and early choices led me into.

It’s also been hard to fully embrace this path because it comes on the heals of a significant loss and setback in my life in 2010, when I lost everything I had been building, because of my addiction. Even though the loss came because I got into recovery and started dealing with the underlying issues that led to my addictive behavior, it has been hard at times to fully accept the loss and change as healthy and in a better direction overall for me. I know it sounds crazy. But in addition to losing a well-paying job, house, and friends – I lost much of my identity, because it was largely wrapped up in my career – and the material things and money!

This journey I’ve been on since 2010 has been about rediscovering who I am, what I believe and how and where I find my identity and purpose in life. And although it came from a dark time of great loss, I can already see that I’m not just getting by, or surviving in this new way of living – but I’m actually growing as a result. This became even more clear as I read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.

In her book, Sheryl Sandberg shares how she deals with the unexpected and sudden death of her husband. She “combines her personal insights…on finding strength in the face of adversity.” She shares the moment of truth she faced just weeks after losing Dave:

“Option A is not available. So let’s kick the shit out of Option B.” Live is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the shout of of it.

She shares a lot of amazing research and studies, along with her personal insight. Some of the highlights for me are (with credit going to Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant):

  • How people deal with setbacks:  personalization (the belief that we are at fault), pervasivenss (the belief that an event will affect all areas of our lives) and permanence (the belief that the after shocks of the event will last forever.)  from research by Martin Seligman
  • As psychologists have studied people who have endured all kinds of trauma, they most focused on two possible outcomes of trauma: those who struggle, developing PTSD, depression and anxiety or had difficulty functioning or those who are resilient, bouncing back to their state before the trauma. More recently, research has revealed a third possibility: those who are resilient, bouncing forward, finding post-traumatic growth. This manifests itself in five ways:
    • finding personal strength
    • gaining appreciation
    • forming deeper relationships
    • discovering more meaning in life
    • seeing new possibilities
  • Parents can build resilience in their children through opportunities and relationships – with a focus on four core beliefs:
    • we have some control over our lives
    • we can learn from failure
    • we matter as human beings
    • we have real strengths to rely on and share

As I reflect on my journey and how this concept of an “Option B” plays out, I can more confidently each of these elements at play.

I have been guilty of the “three P’s” as Sheryl calls them. Her insights and tips have helped me already reframe thoughts that come to mind about my situation.

I can also see where I’ve been stuck in PTSD mode – perhaps hoping to “get back to where I was.” But, I now see that where I was was still unhealthy, steeped in addiction, lack of connection or community, and unresolved loss back to my childhood. Now I see a third possibility – and know more clearly that this last year of so has been about taking steps towards “post-traumatic growth,” seeing possibilities in all the areas Sheryl mentioned.

I’ve also added these new “core beliefs” to my earlier post, where I’m collecting beliefs as I work through this journey of rediscovery.

So, this book not only gave me tools and insights I was missing before, it underscored the work I’m already doing! and helped me frame where I am in a new, fresh light. So, thank you universe – and thank you Sheryl Sandberg! To learn more, I encourage you to read her book, and check out her Facebook Groups related to Option B (which is also the name of a non-profit she started, with all of the proceeds from her book being used to support this broader effort of finding post-traumatic growth.)

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Finding My Core and Being Authentic


One of my joys – and one of my struggles – is learning into being a small business owner. Having worked in Corporate America for over 20 years, I’m now trying something totally out of my comfort zone – being my own boss. It’s exciting and scary.

It’s a joy because I’m pursuing things that I enjoy and am pretty good at – photography and web design. Part of that joy and excitement comes from being my own boss. I’m not at the whim and mercy of a corporation. I don’t have to put in work for primarily someone else’s gain.

It’s a struggle and sometimes scary because one has to wear about 26 hats, as they say. I’m my own boss, but at least for now, I’m also the only employee! I used to say that Corporate America encourages mediocrity and efficiency. There’s also so much redundancy, overlap and “shared responsibility” – which is a nice way of saying a lack of accountability and ownership. Now, the buck stops here!

As part of my startup growth, I’ve joined the Professional Photographers of America. Among one of the many benefits has been their Business Challenge – a 12-month online cohort where we study the business and operational side of being a professional photographer. So, we’ve learned and worked on our business model – everything from product strategy, to pricing, sales, marketing, managerial accounting, social media, etc. We have regular webinars and online discussions with mentors in the field – studio owners and photographers who graciously share their knowledge and experience.  The Q&A is where I learn a lot – but the real life experience and various perspectives has been invaluable.

One of our exercises was around “Finding our Core and Being Authentic.” We did a powerful exercise with Jonathan Main, a business coach and entrepreneur who has helped a lot of people and businesses reach their goals.  Our focus was on better understanding our core belief systems – “finding clarity and an understanding of your core as you develop your authentic self.”

Personally, I got a lot our of the exercise because it mirrored what I’m working through for myself, including this blog series on “This I Believe.” I’ve come to realize that as I solidify my brand as a photographer, I want to make sure it’s consistent with who I am as a person –my personal brand. In fact, for me to be as authentic as I can be, there is really just one brand – Todd Fuqua. How I act, react, and interact in the world should be the same, whether its for work, family, friends or community. This is especially true because I’ve often felt like I had to “become something else” in order to be successful in Corporate America. So, I’ve vowed never to do that again – never to have one “work persona” and “home persona.” I am who I am, I believe what I believe – and to be the best, most authentic me, I must shine out in all aspects of my life. I won’t go back into the closet again…on any level!

In this exercise, we did some pre-work, including writing down those beliefs we hold about life. So, I thought I’d create a placeholder post, where I capture these short expressions of belief.  It’s like my online vision board! As I grow and learn, I can keep this updated or add other insights. So with that introduction, here’s where I’ve started:

Traits I Admire in Myself and Others: 

  • Empathetic listener – in doing so, creates connections, community and healing
  • Lives authentically – has found their own voice & stays true to that in life, and encourages others to do the same
  • Fights for the oppressed – social justice minded, particularly for those upon whom society looks down
  • Trustworthy – they do what they say, and are willing to own up to their mistakes or shortcomings
  • Playful – knows the value of downtime, play, creativity, family & friends and taking time for self
  • Generous – shares time, talents and things with others as gifts, to be given freely without obligation

My beliefs about life

  • There are always three sides to every story
  • There is power in a question
  • People are inherently good
  • Presume goodwill
  • Seek to understand
  • Know when to observe without judgement
  • Each of us is doing the best we can
  • Check assumptions and hidden biases
  • That which bothers me in others is usually foremost my own personality trait
  • Never do for others what they can do themselves
  • I can’t fix, manage or control others
  • The serenity prayer works
  • It’s better to have a good memory than a bad picture – stay in the moment
  • I can choose to be right, or I can choose to be happy.
  • People change
  • Community is messy
  • It ain’t over until it’s over
  • Mother Nature is a bitch
  • We have some control over our lives, We can learn from failure, We matter as human beings, We all have real strengths to rely on and share (from Option B)
  • Don’t yuck on somebody’s yum
  • Strive for curiosity, courage, compassion and connection

 

Where to Start: Christianity or Medical Marijuana?!?


I’ve been pondering where to start with my “This I Believe” journey. Which topic or belief should I tackle first? Two that seemed timely in my life are my spiritual beliefs, and my thoughts on legalizing marijuana for medical use. At first, these might strike you as odd ones to bubble to the top. But, given my life story and key influencers or mentors along the way, these actually make a lot of sense to me. 

Christianity

I grew up in what I suppose one would call a mainstream Christian family. Going to church every Sunday, participating in church youth groups and other activities was a big part of growing up. Looking back, I think my parents went through this ritual because it was a healthy social outlet for kids and exposed us to faith & spirituality in general. I can’t say we ever had deep spiritual conversations about our beliefs – nor did we ever actively talk about or explore other spiritual paths. So, while we weren’t evangelical Christians, there was clearly a gently bias towards what was probably considered “normal” in society at the time. Moving around quite a bit growing up, I can see how a church connection gave me some stability and social connections. In that sense, it was helpful. Beyond that, I’m not sure I consciously “chose” Christianity nor could really articulate what I believed.

Fast forward through being in a Christian cult at college and exploring the “ex-gay” movement, it took me a long time before I felt comfortable stepping foot in a church. Even when I did in my 30’s, it was more for that same social outlet – as a way of making friends and meeting people in my community. When I got into recovery for my addiction to meth and other substances in my 40’s, I found the concept of a Higher Power – or the Universe – to be a lot more acceptable and helpful. In the 12-step programs, we are encouraged to recognize and find a Higher Power “of our own choosing” – which, as a gay man, was a lot more inviting and helpful than some of the Christian dogma I faced throughout my life. In more recent years, as I’ve become exposed to the flow arts community with my fiancée, I’ve expanded my explorations into other spiritual belief systems and world views – probably for the first time in life. And, it’s been comforting, challenging, exciting, and scary. 

At this point, I don’t know that I can say what I believe. But, there are things I know I don’t believe. For example, I don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God – or that Christianity is any better or different than any other man-made religion. That’s the first time I’ve ever said that out loud – or in this case, shared with the world!  Kathunk….

Having said that, I can’t say what I’ve found – if anything – to replace that deep-rooted belief system. After 40+ years of blindly accepting something at face value, I’m only now beginning to question and explore. It’s only in the past 7 years that I’ve really begun to challenge my world view – so it’s just the start. And, I’m ok (for the first time in my life) not knowing what I believe for the most part.  I’m not sure I’m any better or worse off than before. I couldn’t say that I really believed anything – just blindly accepted it and didn’t make waves because – I’m a rule follower.  But, I’ve reached a point where that no longer works for me.  

What I do know is, I’m still learning and my beliefs around faith and spirituality are evolving. I believe we are spiritual beings, just as we are physical, emotional and intellectual beings. Each aspect is an integral part of who we are – and to ignore any one seems unhealthy to me.  But beyond that, I don’t know which parts of religion, spirituality and faith are important to discern. There is probably some subconscious clarity that I expect will begin to emerge as I write, discuss and explore further.

Medical Marijuana

For me, this is a relevant topic in my life for a variety of reasons. With the changing laws across America, it’s becoming a relevant social and political topic. At some point, I’ll probably live in a State where marijuana is legal for medical purposes, and possibly for recreational purposes. I’d like to know what I believe before that occurs – so here we go!

Having worked for a pharmaceutical company for 20 years, I’ve largely believed only in “FDA-approved” health solutions -mainly for the same reasons I called myself a Christian. It was the mainstream, socially acceptable position to take. But, like the sometimes blind and narrow-minded aspects of religion, I am finding that this narrow-minded, Western view of how the mind, body and spirit heal has also run its course for me. In the past, I would have discounted acupuncture, herbal medicine, yoga and other mindful practices that clearly have medical value – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – despite what the FDA or other “authorities” might currently say. So, why are they “right” about pot? Clearly, they’re not.  So, what do I believe?!

At this point, I also can’t say with certainty what I believe and why. There is a lot of rhetoric out there, and I know the 12-step community is pretty black and white on this topic.  But, I’ve also learned that life is not black and white. So, I’m trying to be open to other possibilities for my own physical and mental health. I’m determined to educate myself more on the health benefits of marijuana. Given the reality of corporate greed and politically lobbying, I’m less inclined to accept what the government or corporate America wants me to believe – and and more included to go learn for myself. So, I’ll be looking for books, articles, TedX and other talks on the changing tide towards accepting marijuana as having medicinal value.  

For me, this seems to be the proactive and responsible step to take – as and before the laws change around me. So, if you’re reading this, and have any suggestions on where to start, I’m open to research and studies that speak to the medicinal properties  marijuana!

 
So, for now, I’ll close.  This is a little bit of “This I Believe” – but more an acknowledgement of what I don’t know.  And, for now, I’m ok with that!

Thanks for listening!