A setback can lead us to a better place—if we just let it.
Lately, I have been pondering the idea of failure and considering that maybe there really is no such thing. What we perceive as a failure may simply be our inner being's way of telling us that we are ready to move to a new level of growth.
No matter how well we think we know ourselves, we all have blind spots. And we all have an inner being that connects with something much wiser than ourselves, that sees the larger picture of our journey toward wisdom and wholeness. All too often, when we rely only on our conscious mind, we resist or overlook opportunities to grow. So our spirit has to get our attention. Failures are a very efficient way of doing just that.
Getting fired was a gift:
When my friend Andi landed a "starter" position handling phone orders for a cosmetics firm, she was sure she would rise quickly through the ranks. But Andi couldn't seem to work as fast as the others. She hated the pressure and dreaded going to work. But she resolved that she could succeed if she kept at it.
Before long, her boss called her into his office and fired her. He said she was just too slow.
Andi was devastated. In tears, she asked me why her colleagues could do the job so well, while she couldn't. But after a few days of rage and shame, Andi took another look at the situation. She'd hated the job and felt terrible doing it. She remembered that her boss had said that, although she was slow, she was very accurate on the computer. So she decided to take an intense computer training course and now has a job that she truly enjoys, where accuracy—not speed—is valued. Her "failure" provided a life-changing opportunity.
She learned not to beat herself up:
Another friend, Margo, had to get back from a business trip in time for an extremely important meeting at work. But somehow, she didn't allow enough time to get to the airport, and she missed her plane. Margo began rebuking herself: "I should have left last night. I should have taken an earlier plane." Then a funny thing happened. As Margo thought about the things she could have done differently, she realized that she always had choices; in fact, she chose her reaction to this situation. She decided not to obsess about it, and, after calling her boss to apologize, used her newfound free time to take a walk. As Margo relaxed, her creativity flowed and she started to feel positive about the future, whatever the outcome.
The next morning, when she arrived at work, she learned that several people had been similarly delayed, and the meeting had been postponed until that day.
Margo was a smash. Having let go of her fear and self-recrimination, she had a lot more to offer. Missing her flight would have been a failure only if she had refused to learn.
Spiritual lessons are everywhere. When we see our work as part of the playing field for personal growth, we become less enmeshed in it and less frantic about the outcome. Then we can enjoy it more, and we can make a greater contribution.
Anne Wilson Schaef, Ph.D., is the author of Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much and Meditations for Living in Balance.
Having a setback (or two, or three)? Keep reading:
From the July 2000 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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