What to Do About Those People Who Sidetracked Your Life


This article doesn’t have much to do with travel hacking or unconventional work. And in fact, it will only apply to a minority of the people who read it.

If you’ve always had a great life and nothing truly unfair has ever happened to you, feel free to skip this one. There’s lots of other great reading out there elsewhere.

But for the rest of you—this one goes out to everyone who has had terrible things happen to them that weren’t their fault.

I had a list of examples here that I thought fit the subject. But then I took out the list, because who am I to judge what is terrible and what is just bad? In the end, only a person who has been victimized, abused, or otherwise harmed knows the degree to which they have been hurt.

So there are no examples, but if the shoe fits, you know what to do.

Good people, bad things—what’s up with that?

It seems that bad things and good people tend to go hand in hand, and when the two meet up, we naturally want to know why. It’s not fair, we say, as if this blunt observation could change anything.

Entire books, eulogies, and sermons have been devoted to this topic, and yet most of them arrive at the same conclusion: we don’t know why.

But the fact is that all too often, the weak enjoy a show of force over the strong. It gives them a sense of power that they are unable to achieve through legitimate means.

After become sidetracked from being hurt, some people fail to recover. They end up emotionally or spiritually paralyzed, unable to get beyond the hurt they feel even after a long amount of time.

I don’t believe there’s a 12-step program to fix this problem. If something like that works for you, great. But if not, here are a few other ideas.

1. Don’t be bitter; be neutral. What happened wasn’t OK, but bitterness will end up hurting you even more.

2. Reevaluate your life. Recovery is always a good time to look at what you’re doing and determine if you are finding fulfillment through it. Did something teach you that life is short? You’re a survivor for a reason, so make it count.

3. Do the things you were told you couldn’t do. If someone said you would never amount to anything, go and prove them wrong. Don’t do it for their attention, and don’t expect them to acknowledge it later. Do it for yourself.

4. Prove yourself wrong. Most people who have been sidetracked have allowed low expectations from someone else to come into their own life somewhere. You don’t need to prove anything to someone else, but prove yourself wrong and learn to set higher expectations.

5. Refuse to believe that you’ll never be truly OK. Why can’t you fully recover? Maybe you can, maybe you can’t, but don’t rule it out right from the start with the belief that you’ll always be a victim.


My favorite poem is Ithaca by Constantine Cavavy. I love it because the theme is pretty much Life, Work, and Travel. That guy was ahead of his time!

You can read the whole poem if you’d like, but here’s the introduction:

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Do not fear the Lestrygonians
and the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon.
You will never meet such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your body and your spirit.
You will never meet the Lestrygonians,
the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not raise them up before you.

It’s time to say goodbye.

The Lestrygonians, the Cyclopes, the angry Poseidon, and those people who sidetracked your life—the way you avoid them, or at least get past them, is to refuse to carry them with you.

That’s why YOU will ultimately win, as long as you can let go of the people who will ultimately lose.

What you do with those people is really not that important. What’s more important is to figure out what to do with yourself; how you’ll change the world in spite of what happened.

You’ll know you’ve accomplished this when those people become irrelevant in your mind. You don’t hate them, you don’t love them—you just don’t care. Maybe you even feel a little sorry for them. In the end, you win because you’ve shown yourself to be stronger.

Often the people who have been hurt the most are the ones who go on to true greatness. They’ve seen the other side, and they’ll do anything to make something better for themselves and those around them.

The best news some of these people can hear is, “You don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

What a crazy idea! Oh, and this is good too:

“I can be changed by what happened to me, but I refuse to be reduced to it.” -Maya Angelou

That’s all I have to say about that. We’ll return to travel hacking and general world domination next week.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to chime in if you’d like.


Image: Melomane

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  • Meg | One Love Meg says:

    This is really good to read. I have been struggling with a relationship in my life. He feels I hold him back or am trying to control what he wants to do, but really I just care and I want to be there for him. I guess the easy way out would be for him to just let me go and than he could do what he wants, when he wants. But being in a relationship you have to shift your ideas of me, me , me. I agree there are negative people in our lives that we don’t really care about and they are easy to get rid of but what happens when they are the people you really care about.

  • Lindsey says:

    I love Ithaka, and it was read at our wedding. Thanks for the reminder that these monsters and fears exist primarily in my head. My challenge is that while I recognize this intellectually, it’s still hard to loosen their hold on my emotions.

  • Amy says:

    I live my life by the philosophy behind this post. It’s what Strong Inside Out is all about!

    I think the single most important thing to remember is #5: REFUSE TO BELIEVE THAT YOU’LL NEVER TRULY BE OK.

    After earth-shattering events, it’s extremely difficult to keep sight of the fact that the pain will end and things will get better. But you have to. If you want to overcome, you have to KNOW that this intense pain will subside.

    Reach out to those close to you. Get support. I’m a huge fan of therapy to overcome any and all setbacks! Talking it out with an un-biased professional can help you gain the insight you need in this moment.

  • Lisa says:

    Thanks. I needed that.

  • Derek says:

    I think growing up with a tough childhood shaped me in many ways. Now, 10 years later, I’m actually grateful for the “bad things” that happened to me. They’ve made me more ambitious, they’ve made me want to prove that I can live life my own way and they’ve made me strive much further than I ever would have if I had a rosy childhood.

    I don’t think of myself as a victim at all. What happened happened, and in some ways it will shape who I am and my life. I think the trick is to grow stronger and more robust as a person, rather than shrink because of the experience.

  • Dylene Cymraes says:

    Thank you! A saying comes to mind…”Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” There are days when I struggle with my small self saying that things aren’t fair; but then it goes both ways. It’s also probably “not fair” that I have so many wonderful things in my life. I’ve been gifted beyond any sense of worthiness, just by being able to experience a sunset. Chris, thanks for inspiring me again today. Keep up the great work! It matters more than I can say.

  • Patricia GW says:

    This spoke straight to my heart. I’m trying to overcome my bitterness and anger from years of emotional abuse, and I’ve found the best advice is just as you said: when you feel nothing towards the people who’ve done it to you, you’ve overcome the feeling. I’m going to live the best life I can because I can only go up from where I’ve started.

  • Caanan says:

    Your first tip is so critical. So often, people put a lot of energy into being angry or fighting back. It only keeps you from moving forward. What you resist persists, right?

  • Freedom | Rethinking the Dream says:

    I agree with this 100%. We are making some major changes in our life, including selling that Freedom sucking thing we call a house and going back to renting. We’ve had many that didn’t agree with us and wished to sidetrack us, and over time they tend to move out of our lives.

    We’ve also had a major falling out with my parents recently over their negative and toxic treatment of our daughter (their grand daughter.) It’s tough to make a break from parents and grandparents, but because we desire and try to manifest greatness in our lives, they are beginning to fade away.

    Like you say, I’m not sure it matters how bad the bad things are, in the end you just have to get past the people or things that are causing friction. Your sentence here says it all, “YOU will ultimately win, as long as you can let go of the people who will ultimately lose.”

  • Kristen says:

    This is so relevant to where I was about 9 months ago. I’m pleased to note that I’ve made it through the list of suggestions. #1 was, and at times still is, the most difficult, but it’s a little easier all the time.

    From the most difficult period of my life yet, I managed to re-create a life more to my liking than many of the happy days that came before and feel pretty strongly I’m on my way to better things.

    I hope this post leads others in the same direction and shows up at just the right moment for someone who needs it.

  • Jermaine Lane says:

    I love this quote, I don’t know who first said it, “Bitterness or hate is like me drinking poison waiting for you to die.”

    I’ve counseled people over the years and have been through counseling myself. The loss of control over something happening to us can be devestating, if we let it. I hear you, saying goodbye and letting go is like saying, “I’m moving on. It still hurts and it’s not ok, but I’m done with it.” A harder question to ask ourselves is, “What can I learn from this?”

    I’ve listened to grown adults, in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s 50’s, 60’s still dealing with an event that happened in their childhood. It is heartbreaking, when we all have the ability to move on. But perhaps not the strength/desire at times. We all need a friend, family member, pastor, counselor, mentor, etc. to walk with us through the pain. Asking for that/seeking that out is a difficult thing, but so very worthwhile.

    As we are on the path to healing/wholeness a funny thing happens, we become a light and hope for someone else through our stories. Shazam!

  • Karen says:

    Powerful. I have to disagree with “And in fact, it will only apply to a minority of the people who read it.” I think this can be relavant to anyone. The Lestrygonians, the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon don’t have to be big things. Even small comments, made as an aside, can sidetrack us. That is exactly what I have been dealing with this week. This article was perfectly timed.

  • queen of string says:

    When bad things have happened to you it is often the case that you come to view your whole life as if it were laid out before you like a buffet. The bad things were in the past ( hopefully) it is useful if they can be placed there, so they are not something you have in plain sight everytime you try to look to the future. Give yourself a clear view going forward. Place the bad things where they belong, in your past. You can still go look at them whenever you want, it just means you choose when, it’s not constant.

    Further, I would recommend being very careful and concious about how you describe yourself internally and to others. If this can be a positive phrase “I’m moving forward to great things” rather than a negative ” I am so hurt and damaged by the bad things that happened to me”, then that makes a big difference too.

    I’m a success story, you can be too.

  • Elan says:

    I love this, Chris. Most of the advice that I read about dealing with past negative circumstances usually goes something like: “Just forgive.” I’ve never found that advice to be helpful, mostly because I believe that in many instances people find themselves victimized precisely because they are the kind of people likely to forgive repeat offenders again and again. I also think that kind of advice makes the victim feel worse by saying, in essence, “Oh, just get over it. You have no right to be angry about that person/situation.” It seems to negate the victim’s perception and feelings, and in my case made me waste years trying to prove to other people that I wasn’t exaggerating the situation and that I had a “right” to be angry. (Sigh)

    But the advice you’ve give here is so positive and empowering. I love the idea that we don’t have pretend that a negative situation was ok, or didn’t exist, but we should refuse to carry along those feelings, and instead be focusing on our beautiful futures.

    Jermaine’s comment sums it up: “I’m moving on. It still hurts and it’s not ok, but I’m done with it.”

  • Jermaine Lane says:

    @Elan- You have every right to feel angry or however you may feel at any given moment. In my experience, my anger is protecting a deeper wound (also my humor too, but that’s another story). So people would focus on me “hulking out” so to speak and either ignore/don’t want to deal with the scared and hurt Bruce Banner underneath (sorry, I see things in comic book metaphor sometimes). Sorry you felt you had to vaildate your feelings, I’m defintely picking up what you’re putting down. Here’s to focusing on our beautiful futures (love that phrase)!

  • Vanessa says:

    Thanks so much for this post – it’s spot on. I was wrongly fired in a very public way (read: front page and international news). It was sudden, unexpected, and hurtful. At the end of the day though, you pick up the pieces and move on.

    I agree that truly getting over something is when you stop caring altogether about how you feel about the person or thing that wronged you. It takes a while, but can be done. And holding bitterness and grudges only hurts you, no one else. Great advice.

  • John Smith says:

    I love the main premise of this post and I definitively agree that bitterness will end up hurting you even more and that it’s a good time to reevaluate your life.

    I however strongly disagree that you should do things you were told you couldn’t do. I encountered a lot of people who made me feel inferior in childhood – the credentials I got seemed unrelated to the work I put in. As a result, I wanted to get some credentials I could be proud of, I spent about a decade in that endeavor. I wanted to be proud of myself based on the measure that was forced upon me. Only now do I try to live my own life without letting the past influence me too much.

    I think that instead, one should do what feels right, start from scratch and find a purpose in life. Start it all over again.

    If you’re still measuring yourself using the scale that was used by the “people who sidetracked your life”, are you really on the right track?

  • John Smith says:

    I used to go for credentials that were tough and fair. I’m still going after one – one that is a lot easier (I got thru most of it in 2 months without prior experience in the field) and best of all I don’t worry about its level of fairness nor I am doing it to be proud of myself, I’m not fighting that old war, I’m not using that scale that was once imposed upon me. What I care about is that it will allow me to get a location independent job. I actually didn’t have any goal besides being proud of myself, now I do. I study with a goal in mind : getting that location independent job. That’s what feels right.

  • Sean Reay says:

    I loved this one. Definitely needed it right now. Some of what you said reminds me of this presentation at a TED convention.

  • Laura Rogers says:

    I wish I had read an article like this years ago when I found myself swallowed by the grief of hurt. On behalf of the newly hurts out there – thank you.

  • Lindsey Fox says:

    These are all good points. I would add one to the list: seek support from a professional. Some of the things you mentioned (abuse, survival, victimization) sound like traumas which lead to actual physiological/neurological changes in the body. In these cases complimentary therapies (e.g. EMDR or trauma releasing exercise) might be necessary for long term success.

  • Alaphonse says:

    I LOVE this post if for no other reason than it made me look up Lestrygonians [a tribe of giant cannibals from ancient Greek mythology] Beware all the blood suckers in your life – Lestrygonians, and vampires, and bears! Oh, my.

  • Melissa Jaine says:

    Thank you Chris. After fully recovering from surgery and cancer treatment, I realised there were certain people in my life that anyone would naturally assume would have been there for support and care. But they weren’t. This really hurts and it’s taking a lot to process that, figure out what that means, and to let go and move on.

  • Kjersten says:

    I haven’t ever encountered that poem, thanks for sharing part of it. I’ll definitely seek out the entire thing.

    This is one of my favorite posts you’ve posted, actually. And I second what Karen said, I think this post can pertain to anyone. Big things and small things can both sidetrack people. In fact it’s amazing how much small things can end up becoming big, especially in lives or during times that are actually lacking huge obstacles. Also too where people fail to take perspective when small things do sidetrack them (which is something I think most people do at least to some degree or at some time, don’t we?). And like you said, who’s to judge what’s big or small?

    That being said, I appreciate your nod towards bigger sidetracks and people overcoming them. It shows perspective that you take in your own work.

  • Kjersten says:

    I already commented, but I thought I’d add a thanks to Sean above who linked to that Ted Talk. It’s a really good talk. Others should go take a listen.

  • Harrison says:

    Thanks Chris, a great reminder to keeping moving forward. Perfect timing, especially after being unfairly let go from my most recent job.

  • Katrina says:

    I can really associate with this post. I’ve had some pretty crappy things happen to me, often big things, that occurred just one after another, after another. I’m finally beginning to recover after a (really generalizing) a lot of crap happening over a period of 4 to 5 years. (There was some great times, and better periods, but… then something else would happen!) A problem I had was ruminating. Dwelling over these things, which only made me more miserable, and actually caused more crap to happen. I have really learned my mistakes when dealing with those misfortunes. I’m ready for some really GOOD things happening, but now that I know what I know now, if anything else comes my way, I think I’ll be much stronger.

  • Julia says:

    Brilliant reminder to follow an exhausting day. That TEDx talk is worth it if only for the graphic of “Escaping the Cult of Average” and listening to Shawn carefully.

    Thank you for the reminder to recognize when I’m getting sidetracked and get back on course to being inimitably unique.

  • Gustav says:

    Viktor Emil Frankl was a nazi concentration camp survivor. After his release, he invented logotherapy, a psychology movement and treatment. What he said about unfairness and how to carry it fascinates me. I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like this:

    “There is no meaning in enduring avoidable suffering. However, if the suffering is unavoidable, then you can find meaning in enduring it. You can choose to carry it with dignity and strength, and draw meaning out of that. Blind luck aside, this is what separated the ones who survived the concentration camps and those who did not. Those who did got up each morning and endured; those who did not gave up and was subsequently executed.”

    I can recommend his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

  • Anne-Sophie Reinhardt says:

    Yet another beautiful post and I can relate a lot. I have been hurt for a very, very long time (from the day I was born until I moved out when I was almost 23) by my brother and I have asked myself all the questions you raised. It is not fair, no, but it happened. I am now at a stage where I begin to let go. I am hoping to come to the place where I can say my brother is not someone I deeply hate, but I am not there yet. However, I am not bitter anymore.
    By moving to a different country, getting married and recovering from my eating disorder, I started to believe in myself and in the fact that happiness is not reserved for everybody but me. By becoming stronger and doing things I never thought I could do, I was able to let go off all the doubts and all the false beliefs.
    Life is not always fair, but you can choose the way you react to events that are not in your control. You can change the way you think about other people’s wrongdoing and you can choose to live your life no matter what.

  • Beth Cregan says:

    Here’s a good quote from author Anne Lamott – “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die! ” Sooner or later, for your own happiness, you have to find a way of letting it go, or at least, placing it aside so you can move forward.

  • jr cline says:

    That is a great poem.

  • Ireland Wanderer says:

    It is much harder to say goodbye if the person who sidetracked you is someone you love very much.
    Once you are hurt so much you are not sure you will ever recover, I would also recommend learning something new, a new language, some knitting, some woodwork or anything ever liked and never learned. You may also make a travel somewhere nice, see some mountains or forests, it will feel like a rebirth!

  • Venkat says:

    Nice article.

    A good reminder that certain instances are not the end of existence.

  • Jim Simpson says:

    The expression we found ourselves using when tragedy happened to us is “there are no words, there is no why”. From my perspective, when people are determined to find the logical, provable reason that something happened – that is a road to nowhere good and nothing fulfilling. For me, while there is a faith component to not needing to know the why, I think it is more than that. By trusting in me and believing in the ultimate goodness of people and this world, I can accept that crappy things will happen but life will continue. And that life is bigger than what I can see and touch and understand and that is okay. I can live with mystery and unknown. I don’t need to know everything. I just need to know and be what is today. Live, laugh, love and no worries my friend.

  • Matthew says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with #1. Don’t be bitter. “Holding anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
    – The Buddha

  • Sarah Beach says:

    Yes retrain the brain! Forge new connections in the mind and and create happiness in your new landscape.

    Thank you for the reminder and good article. I have taken a lot of beatings in life but I am very grateful for them, as they have molded me to the individual that I am Fearless, Strong and all the rest-sometimes it feels good to toot your own Horn.

    Happy Regards,
    Sarah Beach 🙂

  • Noch Noch says:

    i like how you say that people who are hurt the most become the greatest. i think we all have to remember that all the time

    noch noch

  • Victoria says:

    Wow, this was so fitting for my life exactly in this moment. I often have felt the need to prove myself to those that have low expectations, but whenever I am in that mindset, I end up getting in my own way. This was truly fitting and reading really helps the healing process. Thanks for writing.

  • Martin Pigg says:

    I love what Don Miguel Ruiz says in his book, “The Four Agreements,” “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. When you’re immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

  • Jenny says:

    It helps to be reminded that one is never alone in this.
    Bad things happened. I am certainly not past them.
    But not for lack of trying and pushing forward.
    And I have moved forward.

    I wish the same for whatever struggles burden anyone else, simply moving forward.

  • Mike Monaghan says:

    “Nothing others do is because of you…” – Thankyou Martin for this Don Miguel Ruiz quote. We all live in our own realities, and we all have to do everything we can to make our own reality as agreeable as we can. And that means altering our perception of events in our favour.
    If I find my mind wandering over events and people that have sidetracked me in the past, then I quickly look at the precious things I have in my life right now. If I hadn’t been sidetracked; if those events hadn’t happened… I wouldn’t be where and who I am now… I wouldn’t have these precious things. In my case, it’s my son who makes everything I went through worthwhile – all the pains, regrets, wrong turns, time-wasters, broken hearts…
    Life is a journey and an adventure, not a leisurely tourist trip. The hardships and struggles are what makes your story unique and fascinating… and the “happy end” so much sweeter. And you always have the choice to write that happy end.

  • Kevin says:

    “What you do with those people is really not that important. What’s more important is to figure out what to do with yourself; how you’ll change the world in spite of what happened.”

    This is what I’ve begun to focus on. While some of these people are still in my life—whether by default, necessity, or design—I made the decision not long ago to not let them keep me from travelling the path I want to walk.

    Consequently, I’ve perhaps made more progress in the last two or three months than I did during the last two or three years…

  • Jackie says:

    Thank you; just what I needed today : )

  • Butterfly Jewel says:

    Thanks for this post, Chris. Often we don’t speak about hurt and how to overcome it. This was so comforting!

  • anne says:

    Ah, great post.
    It doesn’t need to be a person either.
    It can be an illness or an event (natural or man made).

  • Risible says:

    That’s exactly what I needed to hear today. Thank you.

  • Annie Andre says:

    You’re so right and thanks for the reminder. Often the bad things that happen to us that hurt us have as much to do with our successes as the good things that happen to us. Hardship and pain really does shape us and i truly believe it’s necessary to feel pain to grow and to become a better person to become more successful and to appreciate the things you have.

  • Mike Goncalves says:

    What a hell of a post……F@!cking awesome! “Do the things you were told you couldn’t do.” This one hits home. It was forever ago (3rd grade to be exact) but never forgotten. Good stuff Chris…. thanks!

  • mjankowski says:

    The post inspired me to do my own little writing on the lessons I got from last week 🙂

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