Why me? vs. Now What?

Think of a situation in which you’d ask (yell) ‘why me?’ It’s the unexpected cancer diagnosis, the loss of a job, car accident, singleness, divorced, underemployment and so many others. They are circumstances you feel are undeserved, mean, or if you look deep enough, maybe you think ‘you’re better than this’ or ‘I’m too good for this to happen to me.’

But why is a normal question to be asking and doesn’t always come from a selfish place, right? Who doesn’t ask it, especially after something disruptive has occurred? Amidst the sting of that kind of news, why is a holy, guttural cry.

The search to answer ‘why me?’ comes from a deep place that just wants to understand. It’s a good desire and an unstoppable inclination. But, I think it gets too much airtime and traps us in an inescapable cul-de-sac. What I think we’re really trying to understand is the what. What does this mean for my life now? and … Now what?

When we approach transition and change with not only the question ‘why me?’, but also ‘now what?’, we may be able to grapple with our circumstances in a healthier, more functional way and see hope in the new unknown future.

When someone is stuck in the why me?, struggling to figure out the now what? of their life, it is best not to barge in with advice like, “Follow your dreams. Just figure out what you want and go after that.” If they could, they would. What they need is real help. And what they want is what they lost. Until that’s acknowledged and engaged on some meaningful level, we’re only slapping them across the face with hope.

Emily’s Now What?

A while back I opened my office door for an initial consultation with a woman – I’ll call her Emily – who I had never met before and knew nothing about. There, in a wheelchair, sat a young woman in her late twenties. The wheelchair was motorized with a fairly sophisticated remote controlled by her left hand. Her pleasant smile accentuated a scar rounding her chin.

Several years earlier Emily was driving with her family when a vehicle struck their car squarely, instantly killing her parents. She and her siblings suffered various injuries including broken bones, punctures and lacerations. Emily’s injuries were the most severe; she broke her back making her quadriplegic.

Here is a young woman in the prime of her life and in an instant EVERYTHING changed.

As she spoke of the devastation it was everything I could do to keep from weeping. The injuries she sustained to her body and family, along with the death of her parents, seemed too much. How can so many calamities find one family?

She continued. It got worse.

She went on to share that prior to the injury she loved her job as a teacher, something she wanted to do since childhood. She shared about the children and what she loved about teaching. We touched on something I knew was so dear and precious—her felt reason for existing.

Loss of body.

Loss of loved ones.

Loss of career.

Loss of agency.

Loss of identity.

And there she sat, smiling.

Emily’s smile did not hide the reality of her circumstances. There was no real way to do that. The wheelchair gave that away every moment of her life. Her face was radiant and this came from a much deeper place. At 29 years old, she has drunk more deeply from the cup of sorrow and joy than most people do in a lifetime. I’m left undone by the defiance in her words and smile. She was determined not to let this injury steal and destroy her future.

In spite of rupturing change, she wants a life; and not just any life. She wants all the possibility for her future she felt prior to the accident to be true and worth pursuing. She wants work that provides income and allows her meaningful impact. She wants the loving pursuit of a man who’s willing to sign up for all that would be required given her circumstances. She wants experiences of adventure and play. She wants to live, not merely exist.

She has dark, dark days. But here she was, not seeking death, but answers to now what?

What resilience.

What courage.

Now what? helps us understand what it means to moving forward. We are trying to recover a future that suddenly has become compromised, even if the change is good. Life is not going to go as we thought it would, but we must find a way forward.

It’s a difficult task to reconcile when a future has changed forever. For many, it’s an even more difficult task to reimagine a meaningful future knowing that ultimately it too may be lost.

Can you think of a change of life circumstance in which you asked why me? or now what?

Do you see the difference between the two questions?

In future blogs, I’ll be exploring the different between the two questions and how together they can lead a person to more courageous and creative living.