Bitterness is like a mood-altering drug. It affects your disposition and impacts your relationships. When bitterness creeps in, it tends to stick to your soul for months or even years. To truly enjoy life and all it has to offer, you have to ruthlessly eliminate it.

The question of the day is: How do you do that?

I used to let bitterness take hold of me years ago. It was shortly after being downsized in the corporate world. I took everything personally...and it impacted my personality.

I became the type of person who took things personally.

As bitterness took root it also took up residence.

Here's the full story.

Before writing full-time, I was a corporate manager type. I started out as a technical writer on a small team and eventually took a small leadership role (known then as a Project Lead). Over about a five year period, I assumed command of a larger team and gained more important-sounding titles, including Project Manager and eventually Director. My personality and identity were wrapped up in my job, the responsibility, and the titles.

By the way, after writing about this experience so many times, people have wondered at times if I was a hapless jerk back then. The answer is: Not really. It was 18 years ago, I was young, but most importantly I had not dealt with a persistent problem.

It was September 18, 2001. I found out about being downsized, and when I walked out of the building that day, my first thought was quite noble. I thought about my wife and four little kids at home and wondered how long my severance pay would last. It was a springboard to a writing career, but the nobility of my first thoughts gave way to a pretty negative thought process. (Turns out it is easier to think negatively, according to science.)

I hated my boss. I hated the company. I hated my coworkers. I became a person who hated. It lasted for years, I'm sorry to say.

As my writing career blossomed, the negative thoughts turned to bitterness at the same time. What saved me, other than my faith, is that I finally learned to have empathy. It was not part of my thought process at the time. I could have looked at things from the perspective of those bosses and coworkers. They were very concerned about an economic downturn. I was an item on a spreadsheet. Looking back now, I realize it wasn't personal.

Interestingly enough, it happened again recently.

On the same exact day.

I had been mentoring students at a college and my role suddenly ended, mostly due to some budget issues. It wasn't easy, but I had learned my lesson. I had ruthlessly eliminated bitterness over the last 18 years. I didn't think about myself as much, and I wasn't worried about my financial situation. I thought about those students, and I imagined how they felt. I had learned the gift of empathy. I let it all go.

I won't say bitterness never comes back to haunt me. It does. What has changed for me is that I view life differently. We all have to make a decision to reduce the impact of bitterness, to avoid letting it ruin our lives, and I work harder at that now.

I can't say for sure when this changed. I know raising kids taught me a lot during that time, but it was a day-to-day change in perspective. I wasn't worried about myself, because I know that peace doesn't come in life based on circumstances. I had learned that bitterness corrupts your personality and your identity and keeps you from really enjoying life.

I'm getting there. How about you?