How to extract the wisdom, opportunities and benefits from difficult experiences.
We’ve all heard the truism that it’s not how many times we fall down that matters, it’s how many times we get up. (And the other one about getting back on the horse.) Which is all good sense and we know they’re right, but it ain’t easy.
In fact, speaking for myself, I’m thinking of creating a business card that says, ‘Failure Expert’ because I seem to have a knack for screwing things up. I’m not sure that I would attract many willing clients, but perhaps if we all made a study of our ‘failures’, we’d be better able to transform our challenging situations.
The ‘Failure Expert’ in me suggests that you pull out a pad and start noting the examples of your so-called failures. Eg. Rejected by so-and-so, offended x, caused a problem with y, overlooked an important appointment, missed hearing a critical piece of information, the special meal that flopped, the critical conversation you muffed, the stuff-up at work, etc. That’s the easy step – painful, but easy.
The next step is more confronting. It’s to go and find out how the apparent disaster served you – and, in fact, all concerned. To uncover the blessings in crisis requires a different sort of brain plug-in. You can’t look at it through your usual filters, through your conscious values. The gifts are usually in our blindspot.
For instance, if we really examine the situation, being rejected can make us stronger, more independent, more resilient, more responsible, more persistent; we ‘individuate’, clarify our values and expectations, attract support from unexpected quarters, seek guidance, are humbled, receive a reality check, develop flexibility and resourcefulness… These are valuable outcomes, right? But because we are attached to being accepted or liked or successful, we typically devalue the gifts of rejection or don’t even recognize them. We stamp our feet or cry or feel depressed because we’re attached to being accepted or liked or successful.
The way to ‘crash and learn’ rather than ‘crash and burn’ is to pause in one’s fury or despair long enough to really register the benefits, and their value to us.
For example, we might want to be loved-by-all but sometimes being disliked is the gift lurking in our blindspot. This unexpected blessing was pointed out to me when a potentially enriching relationship hit a rather messy roadblock. In the midst of my upset about now being disliked by the person (I was very attached to everyone – the whole world! – liking me), I was reminded that we only achieve leadership and success if we can deal with conflict and rejection. Think of our national and global leaders – they have their supporters and fans and followers, but also their detractors and enemies and challengers.
The more I thought about it, the more I had to acknowledge that stepping up in influence and power would very likely mean an increase in both supporters and challengers, and that there was a golden opportunity here to develop greater resilience. It even occurred to me that being disliked could actually be quite freeing. After all, society’s ‘baddies’ are independent players; they are free to follow their own values and agenda. The less we feel obliged to be ‘likable’, the more we are able to genuinely listen to, and honour, our inner guidance.
Same with ‘success’ and ‘failure’. Think of the world’s entrepreneurial billionaires – they have usually experienced a number of business ‘failures’ before they break through to ‘success’, and along each journey there are numerous problems to be solved, whether practical or interpersonal. The brains and brawn and emotional resilience developed through dealing with these issues are enormously enriching, if only we would value them.
Even the people we believe suffer as a consequence of our ‘errors’ benefit from them. Once again, if you take a moment to ponder this, you’ll find that those people are equally called to clarify their values and develop realistic expectations, to communicate more clearly, to be more responsible or less dependent or more accountable or less gullible… The blessings or gifts are always there if we look for them.
And there are even steak knives! I suspect that when we ‘crash and learn’ we grow in self-worth, thus building our capacity to ‘crash and earn’… After all, ‘appreciation’ applies both to qualities and money.
So, as your Failure Expert, I’d encourage you to make these lists and go digging for the blessings, and to become more appreciative of those on your ‘Challenge Team’ – the people who push your buttons and, in doing so, give you the greatest opportunity to grow.
Liliane Grace is an award-winning author, inspirational speaker, and writing coach based in Melbourne, Australia. She is author of The Mastery Club – See the Invisible, Hear the Silent, Do the Impossible and The Hidden Order – Can You See It? and creator of programs based on these books. Her vision is to empower youth (of all ages) to create lives they love living.