Let me tell you, failure is becoming my friend. Why? Because failure is a great teacher. Here’s a lesson I learned from an event that I thought would be my “big break” in one of my fields of expertise.
The Big Event
A couple of years ago held a seminar. I was incredibly excited about it because it was going to change lives. I was going to help transform the way people look at how we respond to violence. It had a practical and timely focus: less-lethal options for self-defense. With mass shootings and the gun control debate still on people’s minds, particularly moving into a new school year, I wanted people to know that they had options. In my conversations with people I’d found that many people didn’t want to own a gun, but still wanted some way to protect themselves. In my zeal, I was going to fill that need.
I spread the word far and wide. I told friends and family, invited former students, posted it multiple times on Facebook, wrote an article for a local magazine, did a YouTube video, had a booth at a community event, sent out press releases, and even got a very nice feature on the evening news.
The Huge Turnout
The big day arrived. I was prepared. I had worked hard to have materials, useful information, and demonstrations ready for the event. I arrived early, set up, and waited. And waited. And waited. Three people showed up. All of them were my neighbors, and two could only stay for a few minutes. I could have saved everyone time (and money) by just walking down the street to talk to them.
I was rather bummed. Arriving home to a supportive and consoling family, I helped put the kids to bed, ate a candy bar, chocolate cake and a bag of microwave popcorn, and stayed up late watching a movie. Oh the rebellion!
Curse it All
My first inclination was to be depressed, give up, and be cynical about people. Curse the people in the community for not wanting to change the way I thought they should! Curse all the people who said they would try to make it but didn’t show up! Curse my marketing skills (or lack thereof)! Curse my interest in the topic to begin with! Curse! Curse! Curse!
That course of action would of course be stupid. Where would that get me? Certainly not any closer to where I wanted to be in life.
I couldn’t help thinking about dear friend and colleague of mine. She escaped an abusive husband then fought him in a huge court battle for child custody (representing herself all the way up to the state supreme court I might add). She prevailed, but after a tremendous toll on her and the children. It could have destroyed her, but it didn’t. When I first met her it was years later. Meeting her you would have no idea what she had been through unless someone told you. I sure wouldn’t have known. She is positive, upbeat, successful, and has a heart of gold. If she could go through the experiences she had and could still keep going with a positive attitude about life, I would be an awful wuss to let a little bump in the road get me down.
Resilience is the ability to recovery readily from illness, stress, depression, adversity, or the like. It is the ability to bounce back from crap. Events do not define you. How you respond to them does, so use them to define you as a better you.
Here are five steps to help you bounce back from a negative experience.
- Vent. Here’s the thing, you’re human. You are going to have negative emotions. Instead of bottling them up inside they need to be let free. You can express them in a constructive or destructive manner. Hint: choose the constructive way. Find a positive outlet. Talk to a trusted friend, family member or counselor. Have a good cry. Exercise. Meditate. Create art or music. Find an outlet that makes you better, not worse.
- Breathe. Now take a deep breath. Maybe several of them. I’ve written about breathing before. Breathing will help you re-center and focus on moving forward.
- Accept that You Can’t Change the Past. The past is over. Done. You can’t change it, so stop dwelling there. There have been times in my life where beating myself up over the past was my favorite hobby. Didn’t do me a bit of good. It won’t do you any good either. Only when we accept things as they are can we hope to change what they may become. (Yes, I know it is not easy.)
- Look for the Positive Lessons. No matter what has happened to you, you can find a positive lesson. In my example, I learned what I did and did not want to promote. I learned that my public library is a very nice place to hold meetings. I learned it is time to refocus some things in my life. I re-learned that one event that didn’t go as planned doesn’t define who I am. I could go on, but I won’t take your time. My friend could have decided her lesson was that she was garbage and should just wallow in the muck. She didn’t. Somehow she used her adversity to make her a better person. Find power in your adversity.
- Reframe the Outcome. How we see things in life depends much upon the frame we put around it. Frame things in a positive way and you tend to find more happiness in life. I recently heard the story of Kara Arnold. In middle school she endured severe bullying, death threats, and attempted strangulation from classmates. Rather than spiraling into despair, she chose to use those experiences to make her stronger. She became Miss Utah, and placed 15th in the Miss America Pageant. Her platform? Anti-bullying. She could have cursed her experiences, let them destroy her. Instead she draws from them to better herself and the lives of others. She framed the outcome of those terrible experiences in a positive way.
My less-lethal weapon event was a tremendous failure when it came to the original goal; however, it was a great success when it came to teaching me some life lessons. I plan to use the experience to make me stronger. Failure is all in your perspective. Success is all in how you define it. The definitions are up to you.
How have you bounced back from “crap”? How has adversity made you strong? Please share your experiences.