Starting Over After a Crisis

  • By:  Vella Mbenna

Find out why you're stronger than you think you are.

Sometimes life can veer wildly off track and leave you reeling. Relationships end, jobs disappear, people let you down, health crises arise, and people die. When the worst happens, it feels like the end of the world, but it rarely is. After the proverbial smoke clears, what you do next makes all the difference.

When you've just gone through a personal crisis, it's normal to feel hopeless, lost, and maybe even paralyzed. Nevertheless, it's up to you to reclaim your joy, your energy, and the determination to keep going. You're stronger than you think you are, but it's still going to take lots of effort to start over instead of giving up.

After winding up broke, divorced from an abusive husband, and raising my child alone in rural Georgia, I turned her life around by starting a globetrotting career in the Foreign Service, working my way up through the ranks and building a life that exceeded my wildest dreams. It wasn't easy, and I faced racism, classism, misogyny, and insubordination during various points in my career.
But each time my life veered off course, I refused to give up. Instead, I dusted myself off and kept pursuing my dreams of adventure and success. My recent book, Muddy Roads Blue Skies: My

Journey to the Foreign Service, from the Rural South to Tanzania and Beyond, tells the story of my journey from the backwoods of Georgia to the far reaches of the globe.

Here's some advice for choosing progress over paralysis and bouncing back when life throws you a curveball.

Take Your time.

Take time to deal with the pain (but not too much time). It's okay to grieve or process whatever has happened—whether you've gotten divorced, lost your job, or experienced another setback—but keep this period as brief as possible and then get on with your life. If you're not careful, this could become your new normal and prevent you from making progress.

Get help if you need it.

If you're seriously stuck or have fallen into a depression, you'll probably know it. At that point, seek professional help. A good therapist can help you process any grief you're struggling with and help you move forward in a healthy way.

Accept social support.

Your social ties are important when you've had a crisis. So be sure to surround yourself with people who love you. Resist the urge to shut everyone out and cope all by yourself. Even if you don't feel like you want the support and attention during this time, you'll ultimately be glad to have people who care checking in on you. But remember, this isn't a time to let just anybody in. Avoid toxic "frenemies" and anyone you feel doesn't have your best interests at heart.

Stop the negative self-talk.

No matter how upset you feel, silence your inner critic and stop the negative self-talk. Beating yourself up solves nothing and just makes you feel worse. So resist the urge to criticize, blame, or berate yourself. When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, replace the thought by acknowledging something good about yourself.

Commit to self-care.

After you've gone through a crisis, it's more important than ever to practice nurturing habits. First, make sure you're getting plenty of rest, lots of exercise, and eating enough healthy foods. Don't forget to treat yourself from time to time as well. Schedule a massage or facial, buy yourself a new book, or go out to dinner and a movie. A small splurge now and then will give you the little bolt of pleasure you need to sustain you during tough times.

Throw yourself into a project.

One of the best ways to regain a sense of normalcy after a trauma is to get engaged in something you care about. So throw yourself into a project you feel passionate about. It will be a much welcome distraction, and it's a great way to get your creative juices flowing. Consider starting a blog, learning a new professional skill, taking up a new hobby, or joining a local choir or service league.

Practice being fearless.

After enduring a trauma, the world can seem like a very frightening place. But even when you feel afraid, it is important to do things that scare you (within reason). Speak up in meetings, go to a networking event where you won't know anyone, or volunteer to lead a project at work. Challenging yourself to step outside your comfort zone stretches your confidence and makes you a stronger person.

Find faith in something.

My strong faith in God helped me survive and navigate job and money instability, domestic violence, and several work challenges during my 26-year career with the Foreign Service. Through it all, I prayed constantly, asking God to guide and comfort me through my uncertainty and fear. My prayers have always sustained me. Even when times have been so hard that I haven't known what to ask for, I just ask God to help me and He always has.

Count your blessings.

Even if it doesn't seem like it, you probably still have a lot to feel grateful for. Find positive things in your life to focus on like your home, your friends, or your children. Focusing on your blessings can help you put what you're going through into perspective.

Plan a getaway.

There's nothing wrong with taking a temporary break after a major life disruption. So, plan a vacation where you can rest, relax, and reset. It's a great way to separate yourself from reality and remember what it's like to have fun. And if you can't afford a traditional vacation, set aside a little money for an overnight getaway, or visit a friend or relative for a few days for a change of scenery. You'll come back feeling revived and ready to get back on track.

You can't plan for a personal crisis, but when one shows up, you can heal from it in a healthy way. New beginnings can be beautiful things, and once you've dealt with whatever storm just blew through your life, there's nothing stopping you from picking up the pieces, getting back on track, and pursuing your ambitions and dreams.

Vella Mbenna is the author of Muddy Roads Blue Skies: My Journey to the Foreign Service, from the Rural South to Tanzania and Beyond. She was born in the Holmestown community of Midway, Georgia, where she grew up with eight siblings and parents who instilled in her the important values that would set her on the path to success. Throughout her youth, Vella dreamed of escaping small-town USA and traveling the world. In 1989, that dream came true when she was offered a position with the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service. During her highly successful 26-year career as a diplomat, Vella served with honor in 13 foreign countries as well as two tours in Washington, DC. For more information, please visit


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