Your story isn’t over yet.
In praise of the humble semicolon
I know it seems odd to write a post about a punctuation mark, but recently I was at a restaurant and my waiter had a very pronounced semicolon tattooed on his arm and I asked about it. He told me that the semicolon is now the symbol to recognize those who have struggled with depression, anxiety, addiction and/or suicidal thoughts.
I had not heard about this trend of using the semicolon as a symbol of hope. The waiter went on to explain that the semicolon represents “…a sentence the author could’ve ended, but chose not to. The author is you, and the sentence is your life.” (*Amy Bleuel)
Online I found the Project Semicolon; it exists to encourage, love and inspire. The overall purpose is to serve as a reminder that, no matter what you’ve gone through or are going through, others have been there and have moved safely on to the next chapter in their lives.
The grammatical purpose of the semicolon is to mark a break that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a full stop. It’s used between two main clauses that balance each other and are too closely linked to be made into separate sentences. (Oxford Dictionary)
I like the idea of a short pause in business, life or love to stop, breathe and redirect or continue on, but its greatest meaning is that life goes on after a break; it is the hope, which I believe that so many people need to hear.
Recently, I have been getting a pile of nice notes from listeners and readers who’ve said that a blog post or a podcast I did years, months or weeks ago felt like I was speaking to them directly, and they wanted to let me know how grateful they were that I spoke the truth about life and love and setting oneself free from those who did not value the person that they were. Many of the notes were very personal about the life-changing decisions that people chose to make so they would live the rest of their life making the best of their life–not looking back, but finding the strength to move forward, ever onward though good times and bad.
In a sense, all the readers who wrote me are living the idea of a semicolon; making the choice not to stop or quit or run away but to stand strong, work through any situation and stay with it until they succeed, no matter what that looks like or how messy that may ultimately be.
I like the idea of taking a break when you need to rest, and picking up and going when you are ready for the journey because, friend, your story is not over yet, and you are the author of your life. You can rewrite the ending any time you choose or you can keep on keeping on the way it is–the key is that you get to decide.
I want to take a minute and focus on the idea that Amy Bleuel (founder of the Semicolon Project) shares about the project, which is that the semicolon represents, “a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to. The author is you, and the sentence is your life.”
I am always saddened and surprised when I hear of someone I know who harms themselves. The idea of causing pain purposefully is out of my realm of understanding. Knowing that situations like this do happen, I want to say something to you very clearly: I strongly believe that you need to make a plan now to prepare yourself for your future. When you prepare mentally, emotionally, physically and even spiritually, you will be in a much better place when the storms of life rage over you. Please hear me, I am not hoping that the storms ever come your way, but should you find yourself in the middle of any storm that is pushing you off course, you need to know in advance how to get back to the safety of the shore.
You must always remember that no matter how or what you feel, and you know in your heart and head that feelings change hour by hour; minute by minute, please commit to memory that you are the author of your life. Choose wisely.
It is my prayer that no one in my circle (and if you’re a reader or listener, you are in my circle) would ever consider taking such drastic steps that would leave an empty place in the hearts of those who love you or who know your name.
The key is to hold on tight and be strong enough to let the painful, disruptive feelings pass and then find and take the next steps forward to continue on.
I am going to assume that you, my reader, are not in this position, but as you interact with others at work, school, in the community or your place of worship–even your family–please be aware that you are surrounded by people who will (or have) at one time or another consider the punctuation of a period for their life and not a semicolon.
Think back to all the times you thought you could not go on. At that time, you really thought you couldn’t take it one more day and then, after a time of rest or a reset of your mind and emotions, you either pushed through or you came to realize that the situation itself was a hot mess that you needed to walk away from and you did. And you survived the drama, the anger, the pain, the money (or lack of it) and the ugliness of it all.
Remember, although it was awful at the time, looking back at your worst situation you survived, there were hard lessons learned, no doubt, but you came through the storm–maybe worse for the wear emotionally and financially at the time, but now you are free.
Go back to that awful incident for a quick second and appreciate that here you are now. You are still standing, and you are, in most cases, better off than if the situation had worked out the other way. Granted, not every time, but over time, the scales have balanced in your favor because you chose the semicolon instead of the period.
Always remember, “The author is you, and the sentence is your life.”
So let’s get back to how you prepare for the unexpected. Let me give you three ideas that have helped me in my life.
It is never as bad as it seems. Years ago, I found myself in a situation that I should have never gotten into. I went into a business venture with some friends, only to find out that they had no business experience, nor did they know how to deal with the public; on top of that, they had some funky personality issues (that I saw but excused) that were truly frightening. By aligning myself with my new “business partners” I almost ruined my reputation. A few thousand dollars later, a good lawyer and a dissolution agreement saved me. At the time I was beside myself with anger and resentment, kicking myself for being so dense and not seeing the situation for what it was. That situation is long past and, thank goodness, I’m still standing. And you will be also when time passes from any incident that you honestly are not a party to. Trust the system and make sure you’ve been true to your word and your bond with others.
My other point is that others have gone through similar tough times and survived. When I finally untangled myself legally and financially and had to break the friendship, I realized that I was just like so many others who chose the wrong business partners and had to rebuild from scratch. I was not the first one in the world to have made such an error in judgment–it happens more than any of us care to admit–but the good news is that the lessons were learned, albeit the hard way, and I have never repeated those same mistakes again.
And probably the most important issue is that you need to focus on taking one step at a time, always moving forward. Coming back to find my office a mess, my bank account emptied and my clients all taken (I eventually got them all back), I had nothing better to do than to toss out what was left and start over fresh. Was it easy? No, it never is. Did I have a choice? No. Not if wanted to make a living. Besides me mentally beating myself up for making such a stupid mistake, being financially at a disadvantage for a time and having to explain to friends and clients that my associates and I had parted ways, I had no choice but to keep moving forward. At the end of the day, no one really cared that I had messed up, but they had faith that I would make right everything I had promised because, over the years, I had built a level of trust with everyone I did business with.
I had prepared mentally, emotionally, physically and even spiritually, to plant my feet deep in the ground and hold on tight when the storms of life raged over me. And in a funny way, because I had earned a strong level of trust, I had prepared my network of clients to stand with me and together we weathered the storm.
Was I bruised? Not really, mostly it was my pride. Was I broken? Not really. I am the youngest of five kids and the only girl, so it is going to take a lot to break me. Looking back, what I was–if I had to put it into words–was lonely. Not in a sad way, but more like realizing that I was going to have to rebuild by myself…on my own.
I remember telling a friend about my situation of being by myself all day, every day, and although I like myself and have great conversations with me, myself and I having to rebuild was a lonely, seemingly insurmountable challenge on most days. My friend suggested that every day I make at least one appointment to either have lunch or coffee with someone…every day. And what that did was three things: it got me up and dressed and out of the house, it made me focus on others and how I could be of help to them, but the most important thing it did for me was remind me that I wasn’t alone. I had work to do, and I needed to get to work, even if it meant rebuilding myself…all by myself.
I could have thrown my hands up and quit, choosing to go to work for a company so I didn’t have to do the heavy lifting of building a business again, but I didn’t quit. Looking back now, I realize that I chose the semicolon in life; not a period. I stopped, took a break and then continued on. So let my story be an encouragement to you that no matter if it’s business, life or love, always remember that the semicolon represents, “a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to.” And, friend, “The author is you, and the sentence is your life.”