“What the hell just happened?”
I sat with my boss behind a closed door. We were both stunned. Didn’t really know what to say. Something shocking and incredibly hurtful had just happened. We were totally blind-sided. Couldn’t have been much more painful or much scarier.
I took some deep breaths and realized there was only one way I could handle it. “You know what? . . . A year from now, this won’t even matter.”
A year later I realized I was totally wrong. A year later, it did matter! It had turned out to be one of the most beneficial experiences of my life. I had learned valuable lessons, grown so much as a communicator, and developed some key relationships–all because of this “bad” experience. In fact, if I could take the whole event back–I wouldn’t! It was a good learning experience–too good!
It wasn’t the last big “bad” experience I’ve had. But each time they feel a little different and go a little better. I’ve learned four important lessons about “bad experiences” that are really helping.
1. It WILL turn out for your good–IF you want.
Sometimes people seem to end up in a genuinely worse place after an upset. But most of the time, that’s a choice. In my experience and the experience of everyone else I’ve gotten to talk to about life’s tough things, it depends on your attitude.
The more earth-shaking the experience, the greater the potential to grow from it. You can learn big things. You can develop toughness. You can end up wiser. You can gain more perspective. You can deepen and strengthen relationships. You can even take advantage of whatever changed and leverage it to take even bigger steps forward.
The key word is CAN.
2. Once you understand that it will turn out for good if you want, the GOOD will happen faster.
The bad-leads-to-good perspective doesn’t change the fact that pain hurts. What the perspective does change, I’ve noticed, is how quickly your focus (and therefore feelings) start shifting from the pain to the benefits.
The first time as a kid that you feel like you’re drowning in the deep end of the pool, you panic and splash around and it hurts and you’re terrified. Eventually you realize you can swim to safety. The next time you’re in too deep, you already know your plan of attack: Look for a wall and start swimming.
In the same way, once you truly understand that you can make a “bad” experience turn out “good,” you start working on it a lot more quickly.
3. Even the “worst” outcome sometimes feels worthwhile when you compare it to the new You that will come out of it.
Let’s say it gets really bad. Like you get fired. Or you go broke. Or your car dies. That seems like a pretty clear negative, right? An obvious net loss.
Well not necessarily. In fact, if you decide to leverage it for your own good in every way you can, to look for the silver linings and chase them–often you end up much better for it. Sometimes it takes a year. Sometimes half. Sometimes a month. Sometimes even less. But eventually you’ll probably be glad you had the experience, even if it turned out really bad. Would you take back all the “bad” things that happened to you as a kid? Or are you too grateful for the You they’ve created?
(I don’t want to be flippant or fake. Sometimes the “worst” means you’re dying of cancer. Or you lose a loved one. That’s real. Sometimes maybe there’s really no light at the end of the tunnel in this life. But 9 times out of 10, when someone’s in despair–they can still come out a better, wiser, stronger person in the end. It’s those 9 times I hope this post might help with.)
4. Finally, if you make the “learning and growing experience” mentality a habit, bad experiences will just become “good learning experiences.”
You can be a person who lets bad stuff break you down and stunt your growth. Or you can be a student of life and let all the experiences–“good” and “bad”–be good learning experiences. You can commit to focus on growing as a person when times get tough.
I can tell you from personal experience–the more you force yourself to focus on the learning and growing opportunities when bad things happen, the sooner it will become second nature. And once it’s second nature, as a general rule, things just go much better. Things don’t hurt as badly. Pain doesn’t last as long. You get better at learning and growing. You become a pro at bouncing back from upsets and just doing life better than before.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And when life kicks you in the butt, grab a pen and start taking notes. Make that a core part of who you are. You’ll be a happier, stronger, wiser, and more effective person.
Of course. There’s another option. You can let everything just break you down. You can stop getting back up when you fall. You can just give up on yourself. Sometimes we start to do that, and it’s very sad . . .
“Eeyore, the old grey donkey, stood by the side of the stream and looked at himself in the water. ‘Pathetic,’ he said. ‘That’s what it is. Pathetic.'” – A. A. Milne
How will you deal with “bad” experiences in the future? Will they leave you weaker or stronger?
“You just have to decide whether you are Tigger or an Eeyore. You have to be clear where you stand on the Tigger Eeyore debate.” – Randy Pausch