A woman reclines on a giant ampersand

Lean in to "And"

As a thirtysomething, I have gone to my fair share of weddings. I love witnessing two people come together to celebrate their joy, and hearing all the wonderful things their friends and family have to say about them and their joyful future together. I also know that life is not only joy, but comes with a multitude of challenges and pain that we cannot always foresee. My husband, a clergy member, often offers up a similar thought to the wedding couple as they share a glass of wine while he is officiating: may the sweetness in this cup be even sweeter because you share it together, and may any bitterness you taste be less bitter because you share it together.

The power in this statement is not in the “together” but lies in the “and”. Joy does not exist without pain. Success does not exist without challenges. More often than not though, we find ourselves using statements joined with “but” instead of “and”.

Joy does not exist without pain

“I am sad but at least I have the support of my family.”

“I am struggling financially but at least I have a safe place to live.”

“My kids exhaust me but I am lucky to spend time with them.”

“I’m angry about my diagnosis but at least there is a treatment.”

These simple phrases can change so much and their meaning to us can transform when we join together our positive and negative emotions with AND instead of BUT.

Joining the positive and the negative

“I am sad AND I have the support of my family.”

“I am struggling financially AND I have a safe place to live.”

“My kids exhaust me AND I am lucky to spend time with them.”

“I am angry about my diagnosis AND there is a treatment.”

The use of “and” stresses that these feelings can exist simultaneously, even though most individuals struggle with that concept. If you are struggling financially that does not negate the fact that you have gratitude for other things in your life. If you are exhausted and drained by your children that does not negate the fact that you love them. Even if you are angry with the world about your cancer diagnosis, that does not negate the fact that you are seeking treatment and have hope. In fact, there is beauty in experiencing dual emotions.

The power of vulnerability

Social worker Brene Brown speaks and writes about the power of vulnerability, including that vulnerability is “the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences.” Living in a vulnerable way can feel scary or hard. But thinking back to a time that you have been vulnerable, what comes to mind? Likely a time that you also lived with courage and strength.

Using “but” with feelings can invalidate the struggle, or suppress the joy. The vulnerability allows you to experience a full range of emotions. Having cancer can push you to the brink of vulnerability. Lean into the vulnerability - the outcome may be a richer human experience.

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