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How often do you feel sorry for yourself?


Today is July 13 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you feel sorry for yourself?” American statesman Benjamin Franklin noted “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” Those who navigate the chaos seldom feel sorry for themselves. They simply have no time. Desiree Linden, Juan José Méndez Fernández, Frida Kahlo and Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas are examples of extraordinary people who did not feel sorry for themselves.


After battling sheets of rain, temperatures in the 30s and wind gusts up to 25 mph, Desiree Linden won the 2018 Boston Marathon; the first American woman to win there since 1985. “I think everyone was feeling bad based on the conditions,” she said in a New York Times interview. “But I was like, ‘Are you going to feel sorry for yourself, or are you going to compete and get this done?’ Her victory at Boston also illustrated her grit as it took her 12 years of competing in marathons to finally win one. It was Linden’s sixth time competing here, and her knowledge of the course and trademark no-nonsense grit finally paid off. In 2011, she came in second in a sprint down Boylston Street, runner-up that year by only two seconds. Although she won by more than four minutes, she never looked back and said she ran scared the whole way to the finish line. As Linden recalled: “At six miles I thought, ‘No way, not my day,’ and then it was kind of hilarious how it worked out. You don’t want to go out into the lead—I was like, ‘this is going to go horribly wrong; I’m going to blow up.’ When you’re thinking you’re going to drop out, you don’t do the right things along the way. Then you break the tape, and you're like, ‘This is not what I expected today,’ but it’s absolutely amazing. Running down Boylston is amazing.”


At 27 Juan José Méndez Fernández lost his left arm and most of his left leg in a motorcycle accident. “I passed out on the bike and crashed into a car. I got covered with a blanket until a policeman realized I was moving.” Fernandez started cycling to lose weight and after gaining substantial weight woke up one day said, “I can’t go on like this, I have to look forward, I want to live.” He would go on to win Paralympic medals in Athens and Beijing, gold in a world championship.


Mexican painter Frida Kahlo observed: “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.” Although she was disabled by polio as a child, Kahlo had been a promising student headed for medical school until a traffic accident at age eighteen, which caused her lifelong pain and medical problems. During her recovery, she returned to her childhood hobby of art with the idea of becoming an artist. Kahlo's work as an artist remained relatively unknown until the late 1970s, when her work was rediscovered by art historians and political activists. By the early 1990s, she had become not only a recognized figure in art history, but also regarded as an icon for Chicanos, the feminism movement, and the LGBT movement. Kahlo's work has been celebrated internationally as emblematic of Mexican national and indigenous traditions and by feminists for what is seen as its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form.


Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas is a professional Colombian racing cyclist who had many reasons to make excuses but choose not to do so. As a result, he worked his way to the top of the cycling world. His best career results are winning the 2014 Giro d'Italia and 2016 Vuelta a España, as well as a 2nd place overall in the Tour de France of 2013 and 2015. When he was young his family did not have much. According to Quintana “we didn’t have a lot of money. My parents worked extremely hard for many hours to support us, and the bicycle became an important utensil to help them in our shop and farm.” When he was 16 years old, he used to drive his father’s car working as a taxi driver to raise money for the family so his father could rest. Quintana also had to recover from being involved in an accident when he was out riding. “A taxi hit me when I was 15. I was in a coma in the hospital for five days. I was incredibly lucky to survive. Thinking about the past helps me to realize how hard everybody worked in my home so I can be where I am now.”


As with most emotions, there are upsides to feeling sorry for yourself though. Such upsides are only available to those who are aware they exist as strategies to navigate the chaos themselves. As Jennifer Lock Oman wrote in a January 18, 2022, Psychology Today article “Grief, especially feeling sorrow for ourselves, travels with three particular emotions— anger, distress, and shame. While, without question, this trifecta of feelings can feel unbearable, it also carries gifts. Once released from a frozen state, anger can turn into healthy agency; sadness can turn into asking for what we need; and shame can turn into remembering our inherent goodness and knowing where responsibility really lies for what happened to us.”

  • How often do you feel sorry for yourself?

  • If you do feel sorry for yourself, how long does such a feeling last?

  • Why do you feel sorry for yourself?

  • How often have you turned the anger from feeling sorry for yourself into health agency?

  • How often have you turned sadness from feeling sorry for yourself into asking what you really need at that life moment?

  • How often have you turned the shame from feeling sorry for yourself into remembering your inherent goodness?