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Some lives seem riddled with sadness and even tragedy. Many live a life of grief and despair. And yet there are others who experience similar lives who somehow become stronger and decide to make a difference in the world. I believe we have total control over how we respond to things that happen to us. We can choose to remain a victim or, after we have worked through our grief, we can decide to come out swinging.

I have had my fair share of sadness in my life – some from mistakes I’ve made, others from mistakes others have made. Astounding that those mistakes and the pain have given me purpose and direction. Let me share with you a few examples:

I made the mistake of dropping out of high school. As an adult I have co-designed and directed 2 schools for at-risk teenagers. I’m thrilled to report that the great majority of my students graduated from high school!

My dear brother committed suicide. Sadly, I also tried to end my life. Since then I have counseled many young people who were contemplating suicide.

I was married to an abusive man. As a professional, I helped victims of domestic abuse and counseled abusers.

Early in my life I was unmarried and pregnant. So many of the young women I counseled were taking sexual risks and/or were teen moms.

My mother removed herself from my life for over 30 years and I felt abandoned. Later, I became a ‘school mom’ to hundreds of teenagers.

I don’t know why bad things happen to people, but I DO know what you can do about it! Don’t allow yourself to stay stuck in the ‘victim’ mode. Get out there and fight! Your mistakes and the disadvantages you have experienced make you someone who can help others in similar situations. You may find this is your purpose in life.

Let me close with some sayings that have helped me throughout life:

Be kind to everyone no matter how they treat you. You don’t know what kind of a day/life they have had.

The most important thing to look for in a partner is kindness and honesty.

Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time. It doesn’t matter the cut of the cloth – we are all the same.

Very few things are emergencies. Take a deep breath and don’t chase after it. It will be there tomorrow.

Fix the problem, not the blame.

Whenever I look at an elderly person I try to think of how I can help them. Usually it is just a smile and a friendly conversation. Sometimes it is more. I might be the only person who talks to them all day. I feel better and so do they.

Every morning I am happy to have another day. I smile and am aware of how lucky I am.

Whenever I see someone who is hurting, who is homeless, who is afraid, I think, “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.” I don’t see them as different. I see them as someone who is just like me and who is carrying burdens I’m fortunate enough not to have to carry.

Figure out what you want on your tombstone. THAT will decide your purpose, the legacy you want to leave. I hope mine will be “She earned her rent on earth.”

If I don’t get some sort of reward, some sort of afterlife, that’s ok. This life has been wonderful and it is enough.

You know you really love someone when you would take on all their pain if you could. How many times have I pled, “Please, God. If something bad is going to happen to one of my children today, let it be me instead.” I thought it would end when they were grown up and gone and, yet, I still find myself praying that.

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Karen Wrolson has made it her life's mission to help young people who are unhappy in school and home. As a teenager, Karen dropped out of high school and made poor choices for several years. Eventually she received her high school equivalency and later began college. Today Karen has a Master's Degree in Counseling and a Master's Degree in Education. Karen co-designed and directed two high schools for at-risk adolescents, serving over 800 young people in 23 years of whom the great majority not only finished high school but went on to happy and fulfilling lives.

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This Post Has 47 Comments

  1. Charles Swindoll’s quote entitled Attitude. “ is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it”. We are in charge of our attitudes and yours is amazing!! And gratitude helps. There is always something to be grateful for; a smile or a hug, a breath of fresh air, friends, family and your shared wisdom on!

    1. Brad,
      Thank you for your kind words. It is a little nerve-wracking to share all one’s mistakes but I believe that, if I do, then others will realize they are not alone in making poor decisions.

  2. Only those who have been to the precipice can truly recognize and empathize the hurt and needs of others. It is clear that Karen has learned to turn her adversity into opportunity. Opportunity for herself and those around her.

    1. Brad, It is an amazing thing to be able to truly empathize with others who are hurting – it is an honor. Every person has been through some fire and can use that as a light to guide others. Karen

  3. I cannot agree with you more. I have lost a child to leukemia and had breast cancer, but don’t consider myself a victim at all. We all have tought stuff that happens in life. It’s what we do in response that counts

    I am determined to help others go through whatever challenges they face in life, a reason that I just finished writing a book called, “After the Chapters End: Preserving Your Child’s Too Short Life Story.”

    It’s a book about writing about your child who died. And I’m working on a similar book for women with breast cancer.

    We can rise above our challenges in helping others.

    1. Susan,
      You have had to be very brave in your life. And I agree with you that we all have difficult – even horrible – things that happen to us. Yet, how we respond is still our choice.
      You have made some self-sacrificing choices in taking the time to write and share your experiences with others. I am sure your book about preserving a lost child’s story will help many people! I have never seen a book like that and it makes so much sense. A lot of people would be comforted by that process.

  4. Karen is such a good listener, she picks up on what your heart is feeling but can’t putt into words. Her gentle demeanor makes it safe to share your troubles

  5. You have put into words finally! I hope there are more posts to read in the future. I am grateful that I was one of the first to experience how great you truly are.

  6. What a heartfelt article. Thank you Karen for your words of wisdom and inspiration. I will carry your message with me always.

    1. Jackie, What a beautiful thought that Lynn is smiling down upon me. I can just see her there in heaven – taking a break from organizing everything – to smile down at me! Karen

  7. Great words of advice. I, too, have learned that we get to choose how respond to tragedy. Happiness is a choice and is not dependent on what is going on around us. Thanks Karen!

    1. You are right – happiness is a choice. Your comment reminds me of the wonderful book “Man’s Search for Meaning” in which the author helps us understand that no matter what happens TO us, we can always select our response. As he demonstrated through his experience in concentration camps. Karen

  8. You have opened your heart and shared to help those who are hurting. What a wonderful, special person you must be! Thank you!

  9. Marianna, I think it is important for everyone to realize how similar we are. Some people hide themselves out of shame but I wish they could see how very human their mistakes are! Karen

  10. It was great Mrs. B. You have helped me so much. You and a few others have impacted my life so much. I used to be the quiet and lonely girl in the classroom. Who never would let anyone in to this nice and friendly person who expresses it threw my artwork. Not a day goes by that i thank god for meeting you. So thank you so much for everything you have done for me, it really means alot to me. Love Always Anneka

    1. Darling Anneka – I always think of you like a flower. Until you bloomed you were so reclusive and ‘colorless’. And then, through your art, you blossomed into a colorful and vibrant person. You came alive!
      I still have that beautiful painting of the class you did for me – it is one of my treasures from my years of teaching. What a fabulous reminder of that very special class!
      Ms. B

  11. How I wish there more of people like you on this planet! Life would have been much more pleasant and fulfilling in that case. Dear, I feel you have earned, learned, and packed so much wisdom in your composition that it is sufficient for anyone to sail through whole life. Deep regards and best wishes.

  12. you’ve always inspired me ♡ turning pain into peace is exactly how i deal with everything thrown at me.

  13. Your always going to be beautiful inside and outside to me, thank you for always being kind and helpful, that smile never gets old so don’t let it die out and keep motivating us all 🙂 love always phoui

  14. Mrs B has always been a important role in my life. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t of never made it this far in life. Her values and compassion for human kind is beyond belief. I am honored to have her help me through my walk of life. Love you Mrs. B

  15. Karen this is very inspirational!! You are strong and have the best out look on life that anyone can have on this earth. I’m glad your a part of this world. You make it a better place!! ????

  16. Karen, you are/have always been one of the most authentic people I have met. Keep inspiring others through your writing, counseling, and friendships!

  17. As one of your former students you taught me a lot about myself and taught me how to be a stronger person. You were also a mom to me when my mom wasn’t there for me and for that I thank you! Having your influence over the years and pointing me in the right direction I have never been in trouble with the law and I don’t give us on things easily

  18. I agree every word you said. I have gone through some tough times and had similar experiences. Yes, tough times are often a gift to us to become stronger, wiser, kinder and more compassionate for others.

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