Karen Bohnert
Not too long ago, I had a moment where the tears came. Actually, they flowed endlessly — all I could feel was that I was simply less than enough. Everything that I had ever struggled with throughout my life and all of my life’s heartaches surfaced — and so did the tears.

Thankfully, I quickly was able to collect myself. I realized that I needed to redirect my thinking to all that I am, instead of all that I am not. How many of you can relate?

I realized that I am always looking to gain validation with what I can do with my life. I honestly believe it is good to soar ahead and set goals with our life, and getting others’ input is important. However, there does come a time in our lives that we must internally believe that we are enough. We must focus on all that we have done and find triumph in that. We don’t need a pat on the back — our own accomplishments should bring enough satisfaction to our hearts and souls.

The reality is that deep down we all are the authors of our own life stories and seeking validation honestly should come from within our own selves first and foremost. It’s not just a pat on the back from our spouses or our parents or friends, and certainly not from our social media followers. I really have come to understand that we need to follow our hearts and find satisfaction in being our own life’s cheerleader.

Sometimes we become lost in our journey of living the American dream. At least for me, this has proven true.

Over the last decade, I have lost so much — my mother, my father, my childhood dairy farm, and my job — although not necessarily in that order. And, on that Sunday afternoon, when the tears ceaselessly flowed, I realized that I had not yet updated my life résumé.

Yes, I have lost an enormous part of my heart over the last 10 years. Thinking of this from time to time will drop me to my knees, like it did earlier this summer, overcome with emotions. As an adult orphan, it’s like your eternal compass has been ripped from within you, making you feel extremely lonely and lost.

Updating my life résumé has allowed me to shift the way I look at everything. It means reframing how I look at my own losses and heartaches, and instead of thinking of all I have lost — I think of all that I have survived. And, in that, I give myself some sort of power for overcoming all the adversity I have endured.

Sometimes we have to think of ourselves as the storm instead of someone weathering the storm. When you have survived something difficult in your life — a death of a parent, a job loss, or selling your family farm — this can be an emotional and pivotal loss that shades your lens on how you continue to look at life. Believe me, I know this firsthand.

However, I have learned a lot through my life’s journey about dealing with love and loss. I had an unconditional love for my parents, my job, and my childhood family farm, and then I lost it all.

Friends, what I have learned is a seriously hard lesson — when you love big, you will hurt big. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

And when we survive hardships, as we all have, we come to realize this eternal fight within us. We all have this strong will deep down. I will admit, some of us might have to dig deep to find it, but once we do, the sky is the limit. That eternal fire brings out this inherit gift to be leaders and doers and to really accomplish anything set in front of us.

The lesson that I have recently learned is to understand from my struggles and losses that I am indeed a survivor, and that has brought this force from within myself that has been a true blessing. I am now able to look in the mirror and be proud of my reflection, even as scarred and tired as it might be. I no longer seek validation to steer me; I have learned to dig deep and use my own confirmation to take the next step, pausing as needed.

This does not say we don’t need to surround ourselves with good people that help reaffirm our best attributes. There is always an amazing force that is generated when we align ourselves with beautifully strong friends and family. I wholeheartedly believe that I have been able to soar lately because of that well-built circle I have, as well as my rock-solid faith that has yet to fail me.

Listen, we have to realize that we all have days that will drop us to our knees. When you endure days like this, extend grace to yourself, and allow yourself to breathe and cry. I will encourage you to try to reshift your thinking to one of a survivor because I guarantee you will find strength in doing just that — and through that process, you will find your own source of validation that will help you move forward.

Around the Kitchen Table is a regular column in Hoard's Dairyman. The author and her husband work in partnership with family on a 500-cow dairy in East Moline, Ill.