I remember it feeling like the end of the world. I thought I'd never be happy again.
I experienced numerous failures at a young age. I bombed out my first year of college and lost my scholarship. I broke up with my girlfriend. My car broke down, I didn’t have a good job, and I had no idea how I was going to pay my rent.
When I was younger, failures like these were such an enormous setback. If something didn't work out, I just knew that I'd never find something that good ever again.
However, with age comes perspective. I've now been able to watch what has happened in my life over and over again. And in the lives of others.
I did go back to the university, got my degree, and went on to get a Ph.D. and land a great job in Silicon Valley with Apple. I met an amazing young woman, got married, and we’ve raised three wonderful children together (married for over 30 years now).
I left the corporate world over 11 years ago, gave up my first career, and started my own business about 5 years ago as a leadership and career coach and business advisor. We moved away from Silicon Valley to be closer to the mountains and forests near Lake Tahoe. I’ve never been happier (update: the nearby forest fires aren’t the greatest, though)!
What I've witnessed and experienced is that things always work out in the end.
“Everything works out in the end. if it hasn't worked out yet, then it's not the end.”
― Tracy McMillan
In fact, you often end up in a better situation.
A better relationship.
A better job.
A better place to live.
Why is that?
Is it destiny? Is it faith? Was something better waiting for you?
I think it happens for very different reasons because:
You’re forced out of your comfort zone.
You know what you want now.
You know what you don’t want any longer.
You’re willing to listen.
You’re willing to learn.
You have renewed confidence and conviction.
You raise the bar on what you’ll accept.
You start taking a longer-term view of life.
No more comfort zone
Not getting what you wanted, losing something, and failing all force you out of your comfort zone. It shakes you up and makes you reexamine your life.
I think we often settle. I know I did. We put up with less-than-optimal situations because it's familiar and comfortable.
When you’re pushed out of your comfortable “nest,” you have no choice but to plan your next move.
Knowing what you want
When you lose something, it forces you to re-examine your life. Your goals. What you want next time.
As a career coach, I often work with people who have experienced failure and loss. They’ve been laid off. They were fired. A situation at work is no longer tolerable.
As we work together, many will say, “This is the first time that I’ve thought about what I really want for my career — even my life. Up until now, it all has just happened.”
Knowing what you don't want
When you leave a job, relationship, or even an old life behind, it’s an opportunity to also think about what you absolutely do not want in your life moving forward. Knowing what you will no longer tolerate or allow is just as important as knowing what you do want.
This thought exercise is one big reason that we often end up in a better situation than before. A better job. A better relationship.
We get comfortable and often put up with too much crap because it becomes the death of a thousand cuts. It wasn’t terrible in the beginning.
However, slowly but surely, bad things crept into the job (or relationship). Well, now is the chance to never let that happen again!
A willingness to listen
There's nothing like failure to help open your ears. I’m sure you’ve experienced this with a close friend. You watched them in a bad relationship or a bad work situation, and you probably offered advice.
What happened? I’m guessing that they didn’t listen. They stayed in the bad situation until it fell apart.
However, now that they’ve emerged from the other side, they are suddenly able to hear you. We’re the same way with our own issues.
When you’re neck-deep in it, it’s hard to be objective and really listen to what others are seeing and saying. Once you’re out of the situation, you are more willing to hear and learn.
A willingness to learn
Failure teaches you that you didn't have all the answers. It humbles you. It has certainly humbled me.
Now, you're willing to admit that you don't know everything and want to learn. No one wants to repeat their same failures over and over again. So, we become willing to learn and make better decisions the next time.
Every relationship failure made me a better partner the next time. Every work failure educated me. My startup failure forced me to learn more about marketing, sales, and growth so that my new business would succeed.
Renewed confidence and conviction
Nothing fuels me more than failure, loss, and frustration. When things go wrong, it gives me an even stronger conviction to pursue my goals with a vengeance.
“Failure is a greater teacher than success”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Failure teaches me lessons. I learn what not to do next time.
I create a better strategy and plan. I bounce back with renewed confidence.
Use your loss, failure, and pain as fuel. Leverage it to give you greater conviction and confidence to succeed with your new venture.
Raising the bar
Sometimes losing something can be the best thing that ever happens to you. I know that’s hard to see in the moment. And, of course, it’s not true for all losses (e.g., the death of a loved one).
However, in retrospect, I see that many of my losses ended up being a good thing for me (as strange as that might sound). If you examine your past losses, you might see that pattern too. For example:
You dodged a bullet (e.g., you almost worked for a terrible company or a horrible boss).
You almost married someone wrong for you.
You almost bought a house right before the market crashed.
In other cases, it forces you to raise the bar and find something even better for you. For example, I've watched people go through painful breakups and then end up with a much better partner.
Why? Because they now know what they want and what they won't put up with. The pain gave them more confidence and conviction to partner with someone better for them.
You know that you deserve better. You won't settle, as you may have done in the past.
I've experienced this with jobs and my own startup. Being forced out of my comfort zone by a bad re-org made me smarter and more intentional about what came next. I turned it into an opportunity for a better job and promotion somewhere else.
Being knocked out of my “Plan A” by the failure of my startup made me pause my life for a few months. I went through a dark period of questioning everything and rediscovering what really matters to me. Then, I planned exactly what I wanted for my career and life moving forward.
Every loss is an opportunity to aim higher for something better next time.
Taking a longer-term view
As my wife could tell you, I'm not the most positive person in the world. But, this is one area where I do have a positive outlook.
I’ve slowly learned to take a longer-term view of life events. Or, I should say that I’ve learned that even the most painful situation fades with time and slowly gets better. What feels like a disaster right now may even turn out to be a good thing later.
It’s not easy, but try not to get caught up in the short-term chaos and let the bad emotions overwhelm you. Try to be patient, wait for the dust to settle, and then start making new plans.
Loss hurts, but things will get better.
Things always work out in the end.
You will find something (or someone) better for you.
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This week’s office hours topic
Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor who also hosts a private mastermind community for solopreneurs and entrepreneurs who want more accountability and support. If you’re not interested in starting your own business someday (or accelerating an existing one), this community isn’t for you.
Larry lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others take full control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.