Have you ever had something happen in your life that, at first glance, looked like a terrible misfortune but looking back you see that it was actually a valuable experience, which taught you something you needed to learn? Sometimes, events that look or feel so terrible at the moment turn out to give us a inspiration or new direction and focus.
A fable that I read many years ago sums up my point perfectly:
A farmer had a horse but one day, the horse ran away and so the farmer and his son had to plow their fields themselves. Their neighbors said, “Oh, what bad luck that your horse ran away!” But the farmer replied, “Bad luck, good luck, who knows?”
The next week, the horse returned to the farm, bringing a herd of wild horses with him. “What wonderful luck!” cried the neighbors, but the farmer responded, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”
Then, the farmer’s son was thrown as he tried to ride one of the wild horses, and he broke his leg. “Ah, such bad luck,” sympathized the neighbors. Once again, the farmer responded, “Bad luck, good luck, who knows?”
A short time later, the ruler of the country recruited all young men to join his army for battle. The son, with his broken leg, was left at home. “What good luck that your son was not forced into battle!” celebrated the neighbors. And the farmer remarked, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”
In my own life, as a teenager and into my early twenties, I got involved with drugs and alcohol and ended up broke, literally homeless, and in trouble with the law. I had no hopes, dreams or sense of direction in my life. I was completely lost , at a real crossroads, and in tremendous pain. I felt that there had to be something better than this. So I decided to choose something better for myself.
(Notice that I did not know what to choose, but I knew what I did not want, which was my first step.)
First thing I did was to stop drinking and drugging, get a job, and start looking for a way out, which was not easy for a 22-year old. Boy, did I feel sorry for myself. Looking back nearly 30 years later, what seemed like the end of the world was actually the beginning of a whole new life, which I might never have found had I not crashed and burned at such a young age. I am now living a life I never could have even imagined when I was 22.
Finding Opportunities within Challenges
This morning, I was talking with a dear friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer for the third time. She shared with me that both previous times she underwent diagnosis and treatment for cancer, she learned incredible lessons along the way. While she would not wish this on herself or for anyone, she can recognize the gifts her journey has brought to her.
She went on to say that after the shock of the news that the cancer had reoccurred, she had a realization. While she doesn’t know if this third episode will be ‘her time” or not, realized that, either way, she needs to address some unfinished business with two of her children. While she would ordinarily prefer to avoid this issue, she now feels she must deal with it. Through her terrible news, once again, comes the urgency and courage to face her toughest issues head on. She has decided to be honest with her children and share what she knows in her heart needs to be said.
Successful people share with me, over and over, similar stories about some perceived terrible events like a divorce or illness or loss that changed the entire course of their lives dramatically. Yet that change may also have brought them to a place that is indescribably better than they could ever have imagined. Had those supposedly terrible experiences not happened, they might not have found the resolve to make other changes happen along the way.
I am not suggesting that there are no such things as tragedies or losses. What I am saying is that loss and pain can be just one aspect of a difficult experience; positives can result from making meaningful experiences out of our challenges. For example, one mother who lost her child to a drunk driver formed Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), an organization that has saved many lives. Helen Keller used a lack of sight or hearing to teach the rest of us important lessons about living. Nelson Mandela spent half his life in prison trying to bring peace to South Africa yet emerged from his prison cell to lead his country as its first post-apartheid president.
The next time you perceive something as really bad, try and remember it could also be just another gift in disguise. It’s all in the way you look at it.
“There are no mistakes, no coincidences; all events are blessings given to us to learn from.” -Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
“Every adversity contains an equal or greater benefit.” -Napoleon Hill