“The only way you can tell the difference between disaster and opportunity is to decide to make an opportunity out of every event.” - John T. Unger
In last few days, I've heard several inspiring true stories of disaster and adversity overcome through surrender and grace. In no particular order...
- Bob Doyle shares his story in this 15-minute video via Sonia Ricotti's site, Unsinkable. "I felt like a complete loser.... To be someone who wants to make a difference in the world that wants to give up--talk about being knocked down." / "If you can give it up to the Universe, you're life can change." / "I'm just going to have fun with this, I'm going to follow whatever comes up [as far as intuitive nudges]."
- "My good friend (and bestselling author) Sonia Ricotti went through a NASTY phase herself. A potentially deadly blood clot shattered her health. Financial devastation stole her lifestyle and home out from under her. An important relationship ended (which, to make matters worse, involved an alcoholic)...all of it hitting her AT ONCE. Something like that could destroy most people, but Sonia knew what to do and did it in style... She bounced back on a grand scale... and rebuilt a thriving business and a beautiful life." - from an email by Joe Vitale
- "Want to hear the story of how I created my first product while homeless, crying, and living in my car, out of a K-Mart parking lot in the slums of South Philadelphia? And how I leveraged my blog to pull me out of homelessness?" - Ash Ambirge
- John Unger's third disaster was "having the roof of his studio cave in while he was standing on top of it, which nearly brought him to bankruptcy but ended up as the catalyst for the full-time art career he has now." - Chris Guillebeau interview with John Unger / Then John shares: "Part of my resilience is that I know from experience that just because it seems like the apocalypse, it doesn’t mean tomorrow isn’t coming. I figure that the world ends every second, and it starts over the very next second. I’ve seen the end of the world so many times I’m just not impressed by it anymore." / And another gem: "In fact, one of my favorite lines about how I started my art career is “I did it with nothing, because nothing is free.”"
I'm sharing these stories because I realize there a ridiculous amount of stigma and shame around job loss, business and financial "failure" (particularly in the success-frantic USA) that it's time to directly confront that failure/success see-saw duality that can get us fixated (and stuck). Failure?... whatever--it's merely an inflection point in a very very amazing process called Infinity. (btw, I adore James Carse way of looking at Life as an Infinite Game.)
My first brush with disaster was when my Dad died fairly suddenly two weeks before my high school prom. It's one thing to deal with emotionally (and I touched on that previously in Father's Day posts), but it was also a financial ruin for our family. My Mom had no income source--other than social security widow's benefits, and no marketable skills. Zero life insurance. Three kids, and I was the oldest. I managed to graduate college with zero debt and zero student loans from a private university (read: private=expensive) by working part-time (first job ever), qualifying for merit scholarships, and jumping at the right time at the right place (the state was pouring resources to any student whom wished to study computer engineering when I was second semester sophomore--so I simply switched my degree from computer science to computer engineering even though it meant losing credits and going to summer school to catch up).
I believe I dealt with that disaster and also with the post-tsunami "post-traumatic growth" opportunity fairly well (considering) because both felt like random, outside events out of my control. Surely it wasn't my fault that my Dad died when he did. It wasn't my fault that a tidal wave formed at the exact minute we were vacationing on an island shore in Thailand.
Yet, if we lose a job, or bankrupt our business venture, or get mixed up with sabotaging romantic/business partners and everything goes to hell in a handbasket, it can feel like a thoroughly personal reflection and assessment of our unworthiness (or our stupidity or insert-the-self-berating-term here) in comparison to natural disaster or an accident. Those times are when I've found it hardest to recover since I tend to focus far too long on, "Oh no, this is all my fault."
And, to be perfectly honest, when it isn't a wild natural disaster, allies are few and far between. Mostly, their refrain goes something like, "I told you so." Plus the entire universe seems to agree that it is so totally your fault and you are the duddiest dud in the entire galaxy--that is, until you stop that b.s. In other words, get over yourself--it's all part and parcel of process of your unfolding myth.
Pretty much the Ego is always vying to find some identity to affix to, and "poor me" works just as swell as "rock star me." (Neither are true.)
Anyhow, without further ado, here's another graceful way to look at "failure" that one rarely sees mention of in the risk-averse public sphere from former vice-president of Facebook; this is an excerpt from Chamath Palihapitiya's final email to his troops as he left to start his own venture fund:
"don’t ignore that which you don’t immediately understand and keep pushing to evolve faster than what people expect. it can create unease at times but its our only path to long term relevance.
speak the truth. its too easy to “manage” – upwards, sideways, downwards and be rewarded for it. this is death. speak candidly especially when it means it won’t be well received. respect the person but don’t let bad ideas go unchallenged.
their is more valor in failure than success. success is hard to define and hard to isolate root causes when it happens. its rare to learn much of anything from success except to conflate luck and skill, but you learn tons in failure. take enough risks that you continue to fail… and celebrate those so that it becomes the battle scars you talk about when you do eventually succeed." - Former VP Facebook, Chamatch Palihapitiya
p.s. PLAY as LIFE is an INFINITE GAME... Join us on Encanto monthly... more unfurling on July 1st when pricing goes up slightly (new and current subscribers by July 1st are locked into their original contribution amounts).
art credits: from seesaw glum to glee: not sure who's digital illustration this is but it's via Big Kid Walking Through the Park blog; illustration "I am nothing without you" by Niko Geyer (see also his site, Niko Geyer); oh, I've saved this seesaw photo from ?? for several years--yikes, not sure whom to credit; photograph "Woman on see saw" by photographer Ann Giordarno