The experiences that shape us into our stronger selves 

Dear Editor,

We’ve all had life events that made our stomachs turn or caused great emotional distress – such as a relationship that ended acrimoniously, an unpalatable experience at work, or a death in the family. These events can be referred to by the acronym ILLOs, (phonetically “Eye-lows”), which stands for Intentional Life Learning Opportunity.

When we were young and mama told you not to touch the candle, did you listen? Likely not. I didn’t. I touched that flame and it burnt a black mark on my skin. Ouch. I learned. That was an early form of an ILLO.

Later on in life, I know that fire burns and hurts, and I stay away from touching it in any form. Of course, now, I tell my kids the same thing, which, of course, they ignore and subsequently experience their own ILLO. Good for them.

When we are young, ILLOs are mostly physical experiences but, as we get older, they manifest themselves in emotional and mental forms. Perhaps when we reach the latter phases of life, it may be a combination of physical and mental forms, as our bodies age.

The point of an ILLO is not that it creates your personality or character, but it is an occurrence that makes you sit up and say, “Wow! That hurt! I’m not doing that again!”, or, in the event of a good ILLO, “Wow! That was unexpected. I want to experience that again.”

It can mold your character by picking up on traits that you already have – like a ceramic stone molder or an amplifier. Clay is clay, but it can be molded into something special. It needs to be molded, yet it remains basic clay.

Small ILLOs occur every day – like finding a shorter route to work that you then start using every day, or finding the best seat on the plane that you use for future reference.

However, in this article, I refer to the bigger, fundamental ILLOs – the ones that often cause us great emotional distress.

Ever heard someone say, “I came out of the relationship, but it made me a stronger person”? The person evaluated the events and took something positive out of the situation.

Classic ILLO! Did it hurt? Hell yes, but the person learned from it. In some way. Get over it; it happened. Now, deal with it and learn from it.

An ILLO normally occurs without permanent damage. But it leaves a fundamental impression and that is the whole purpose of an ILLO. I stress, again, it does not determine your character, personality or your being, however, it will likely accentuate or amplify certain characteristics that we already have inside us.

As a cautious child, my candle ILLO would have likely made me more cautious as it relates to fire. If I was a fairly adventurous and thrill-seeking child, it might have caused a weird sensation of saying, “Wow! That hurt but I want to experience the thrill again!” In that latter instance, the ILLO has ignited or amplified my character, which is likely that of a thrill-seeker, or more adventurous type, and I may go on to become the next Evel Knievel.

If it wasn’t for that early ILLO, I never would have known that I wanted to be Evel Knievel!

As we become adults, ILLOs become more serious and can cause more hurt – especially at the moment when they occur. The good news is that we can always – I stress always – learn something from that.

Remember – the key is that you live to tell the tale, and live to adjust, going forward.

Something bad happened, but you are still alive. What happens tomorrow is up to you and how you react to it and learn – and critically, how you allow your being to be adjusted or amplified by the ILLO that just happened.

Whether it is a relationship that didn’t work out, or a bad professional experience, there is always something we can learn from it.

If the ILLO didn’t cause you immense physical harm or landed you in jail, get up, dust yourself off and thinking about your ILLO. (How to deal with these permanent ILLOs is a subject for another letter.)

Bear in mind that pain and emotional distress are real and must never be trivialized. But the ILLO that caused it gives us an opportunity to adjust, take the good and bad out of it, and become more experienced people.

My five-year-old daughter had an ILLO a few months back – she watched her first scary movie (Coraline) on Halloween and was petrified for weeks thereafter. Petrified – think randomly crying and never wanting to be alone upstairs.

The fear was real in her mind and she didn’t like it. It was a simple ILLO – she will not watch Coraline again, or another scary movie, until she is ready.

If five year olds can benefit from ILLOs, so can we as adults.

After digesting the disappointment, fear or anger that ILLOs often bring, use them to mold ourselves into enriched persons that were changed by having certain characteristics inside us amplified.

It can only happen if you truly see them as an ILLO with an emphasis on the word “learning” (the second “L”).

If you simply see these life events as disappointments, you will never get the benefits from ILLOs that are there to be taken.

Maybe it was intended by fate that ILLOs occur for the betterment of ourselves. But the key is that we embrace our joys and disappointments, label them as ILLOs and keep learning from them.


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