This is Part Three of a four-part series published over four consecutive weeks.
So how can we go forward in life’s challenging moments? As I advised my friend who has been grieving his wife, we can acknowledge that romantic or companionate love is only one of love’s many forms. In line with the Zimbabwean proverb “If you can walk you can dance. If you can talk you can sing” I would add: If you are alive, you can love.
It is entirely within your power to rediscover the love that is inside of you and find new ways to express it to others. How? Call old friends. Put yourself out there and make social overtures to potential new friends. If you are still working, manifest the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran’s sage advice that “Work is love made visible” and discover where love exists—or can exist if you open your heart and mind to it—in your career.
One of the most powerful strategies to rediscover the love within you after a traumatic experience, including losing someone you love dearly, is to volunteer. In one study titled “Doing Well by Doing Good,” University College London professor Francesca Borgonovi found not only that volunteering leads to increased well-being, but that people who volunteer at least once per week experience an increase in happiness equivalent to a salary increase from $20,000 to $75,000 per year.
These opportunities for social connection—through friendships, career and volunteering in your community to name a few—will enable you to rediscover the love within. Why? Because the emotional nourishment you give to and receive from others is a form of this love.
If, like my friend John, you are grieving someone you love intimately, then, one day, if or when you are ready, you may decide to step back into the ring of intimate relationships and try again—not by moving on from the memory of your great love, but by moving forward with this love by your side.
This is why love is associated with gain—once you have experienced it, it will always be with you, encouraging you to express it in numerous ways as you move through your life. How does this process operate? In the same way a mother’s unconditional love for her child provides that child with the strength to extend and express this love independently in new relationships.
Let’s now return to the person in an earlier part of this article who claimed his life is a solo journey because his parents were not anywhere near as loving as author Lydia Denworth has been toward her son Jake. Parents, like all human beings, are imperfect. They make many mistakes that can cause immeasurable trauma for their children.
Many of these children, unlike Jake, can experience immense challenges forming social relationships: they never learned how to relate to others in their formative years when they desperately needed a mentor and their parents were either absent or too inconsistent to provide a stable model.
Here and now, each of us has a choice: to bemoan the cards we were dealt or to discover creative ways to play them. It is within the power of each of us to become the parents we never had. To make the leap from existing in a state of fear—in which we are focused on what we never received—to living in a state of love in which we focus on what we can give.
The conventional wisdom is that we can only love others once we first learn how to love ourselves. It overlooks that sometimes we learn how to love ourselves by loving others.
Wherever love originates in your life—self-love, love for a life partner, love for the people living in poverty or with disabilities whom you are serving, or could begin serving if you can transcend your own suffering—once you bring this love into existence it will naturally expand into other areas of your life.
How can you get started? Open your heart to the people who are in your life, right here and right now. Like it or not, they are the teachers you have been given of how to love.
The love you discover will become the overriding joy and purpose of your life. At this point, you will cease to resent all the people who provoked trauma in earlier stages of your life and even begin to appreciate them for helping you learn this ultimate lesson that encapsulates why love is at the root of your power as a human being to generate positive change in your life:
Seek love and you will find it nowhere.
Love and you will find it everywhere.
About the Author:
Anthony Silard, Ph.D. is a world-renowned leadership educator and coach. He has coached G-20 cabinet ministers and the CEOs and senior leaders of Fortune 500 companies such as Disney, IBM and GE and the world’s largest nonprofits such as CARE and Save the Children. He has taught leadership at the Monterrey Institute of Technology, California State University San Bernardino, Claremont McKenna College and IESE Business School and has lectured on leadership at Harvard, Stanford and Georgetown. His new book, Screened In: The Art of Living Free in the Digital Age, was just released in March 2020. You can find more articles on his weekly blog The Art of Living Free.