This blog post has been adapted from Dr. John Maxwell’s personal development resource, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn. John Maxwell has been one of the world’s foremost personal and professional leadership experts for more than 40 years, and this guidebook for personal growth teaches you how to use everything – even losses – to your advantage. You can pick up a copy here.
A man buys flowers for a business colleague on the day of his grand opening. However, the florist mishandles the order, and the businessman receives a bouquet that was intended for a funeral. The card with the flowers reads, “My deepest sympathies during this time of sorrow.”
When the man calls his friend on the phone to wish him well, his friend is confused. “Why in the world did you send me these sympathy flowers?” asks the businessman.
The man who sent the flowers goes immediately to the florist to demand an explanation. “I am terribly sorry about the mix-up with the flowers,” says the florist, who is obviously upset, “but I hope you will be understanding. Your situation is not half as bad as the one down at the funeral home. The folks there received your flowers accompanied by the card, which said, ‘Best wishes in your new location.’”
Experience is Your Unexpected Advantage
Not all mix-ups, misunderstandings, or setbacks are as likely to make us smile as this one. Obviously, no one goes out of the way to have bad experiences. But the truth is that the negative experiences we have can serve our personal growth, if we are willing to let them. The next time you have a difficult day, week, or month, allow it to help you do the following:
1. ACCEPT YOUR HUMANNESS.
No matter how hard we try, no matter how talented we are, no matter how high our standards may be, we will fail. Why? Because we’re human. Nobody is perfect, and when we have bad experiences, we should allow that to be a reminder to us that we need to accept our imperfections.
One article by Larry Libby details one evening in the life of President George H. W. Bush as he met with key figures from Japan. It reminds us that everyone has a bad day, even a president:
The world’s media packed the back of the hall, microphones open, video cameras rolling. Trouble was, he’d been feeling a little funny all morning. A little light-headed. A little shaky. But this was one of those times when personal comfort had to be shunted aside. These meetings – this very dinner – carried huge implications for American business and the world economy. He simply has to be in top form… He turned to his left and nodded at his smiling host, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. And then he threw up in the prime minister’s lap and tumbled to the floor. As his alarmed wife, security agents, and personal physician knelt on the floor beside him, he groaned, “Roll me under the table until the dinner’s over.”… A little later, when Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater stood before the massed media of the Western world, he was obliged to say what ought to have been obvious to everyone. “The president,” he intoned, “is a human being. The president gets the flu like everyone else.”
When you have a bad experience, give yourself some grace – whether it’s a matter beyond your control or because you make a mistake. You’re only human, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to be perfect.
2. KEEP THE RIGHT PERSPECTIVE.
When you have a bad experience, which of the following phrases is most likely to represent your thinking?
- “I never wanted to do that task to start with, so who cares?”
- “I’m a failure and my life is over.”
- “I want to give up and never try again.”
- “I’m gaining experience from my mistakes; I wonder if I can get some help.”
- “I now know three ways that won’t work, so I’ll try again.”
Your answer says more about your perspective than it does about the bad experience. That’s why the responses to the same bad experience can be so varied.
Author and speaker Denis Waitley says, “Mistakes are painful when they happen, but years later a collection of mistakes is what is called experience.” Seeing difficulties as experience is a matter of perspective. It’s like the difference between going in the ocean as a small child and as an adult. When you’re little, the waves look massive, and you fear that they may overwhelm you. As an adult, the same size waves may be seen as a source of relaxation and fun.
When facing difficulties, maintaining perspective isn’t always easy, but it is worth fighting for.
3. DON’T GIVE UP.
Swimmer Eric Shanteau has called the 2004 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials “the most devastating experience of my life.” That’s quite a statement considering he was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. What would make those Olympic trials such a difficult experience? He finished third – and only the first two places in the trials make the Olympic team.
Shanteau recalls, “I remember walking down that desk being very frustrated. You see a lifelong goal slip out of your fingers in the last five meters and it’s brutal.”
He may have wanted to give up, but he didn’t. He got back in the pool and trained for another four years. His reward in 2008 was making the team in the 200-meter breaststroke. Though he didn’t medal in Beijing, he did swim a personal best. He won a gold medal by swimming the breaststroke for the team in the 4×100-meter medley relay.
What does Shanteau know about bad experiences that most people don’t? He knows that:
- Failure is the cost of seeking new challenges.
- Ninety percent of those who fail are not actually defeated; they simply quit.
- There are two kinds of people in regards to setbacks: splatters, who hit the bottom, fall apart, and stay on the bottom; and bouncers, who hit rock bottom, pull themselves together, and bounce back up.
- Success lies in having made the effort; failure lies in never having tried.
- Most failures are people who have the habit of making excuses.
If you want to leverage the bad in life for your personal growth, you must persevere.
What are you doing today to pursue personal growth?
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