Wisdom often takes years to connect the dots.
Image credit: unsplash
When people say life is unfair, it kills me.
Life is working for you all the time. It’s how you perceive what is happening to you that determines whether life is working for you.
I blamed my 20s on bad luck. The car spun out of control and hit the electricity pole, not me. The friend took the forbidden drug, not me. The Olympic runner drowned himself — I had nothing to do with it.
None of it was bad luck.
I drove the car into the electricity pole. I enabled the friend to take the deadly drug each weekend that tore his family and our friendship apart. I purposely missed the call for help from the Olympic runner, so he got into the raft, paddled down the river, capsized, and drowned.
Life was trying to work for me by showing me my defects. The problem is when you ignore the signs that help you learn an important lesson.
Embarrassment is your pride being shattered.
I couldn’t eat in public. “He’s not very social. He doesn’t come to work functions.” That comment wasn’t true. I was embarrassed by who I’d become — a tall, dark-eyed, afraid, little boy (pretending to be a man).
Admitting there was a huge problem in my life felt like death. The fear of embarrassing yourself causes you to protect your pride. When I finally asked for help, felt the embarrassment, and moved on, everything changed. Life works in your favor when you let go of your pride. When you let embarrassment show your defects so the cracks can be plastered over.
If you’re embarrassed about something, it means life is about to work in your favor… if you face the embarrassment.
Catastrophic business failure is a Harvard-level education with a giant discount.
If your business didn’t work out then you’ve done well.
A business shutting down isn’t a failure. You can make a lot of money from a business that shut down, never reopened, and later, became something else. I failed at seven different startups. Each time I thought it was the economy unleashing its fury on my life.
I eventually gave up on business. I got a job in a bank. I sold most of my possessions. I quit my DJ career. I stopped producing electronic music. I became inward. I shut off most of my family. I became ashamed of the person I’d become. I came home from my call center job, frustrated with life.
“Why me?” drove my self-talk.
I thought life had screwed me. Nothing would go in my favor. The better-looking person would get the promotion. The laziest person at work would beat me on the sales board. The person with the finance degree would get the highly sought-after job working on the trading room floor.
One day I mustered up the courage to do something.
I booked a meeting with the guy that ran the call center. I thought he liked me. I hoped he loved me. We went downstairs to the only office that was free. He asked if it was okay for him to eat his huge bowl of steamed veggies while we spoke. I said yes. I blurted out all my startup failures. I’d never told anybody all the gritty details before. It felt slightly liberating.
“So, do you think I have a special talent that can be utilized beyond this job?”
The story did nothing. He didn’t care about my startup endeavors. He didn’t think I was a hero. He didn’t offer me a new career opportunity. He asked me to go back to my call center desk and keep trying to cross-sell home loans to customers. He wanted me to be his slave. I felt terrible. He told my dirty little startup secret to everybody. I became the joke of the office.
It made no sense. I kept trying to get out of there. One day I did.
“You got the job. I’d wear a black suit if I were you. You start in a few weeks.”
The job was not much better than the last. It led to another job with a manager across the floor. That led to a job out in the field. That job led me back to the same office I’d come from. That job led me to work for a farmer. I got to meet startups while working with the farmer. I turned life with the farmer into startup press releases. Nobody read them.
One day I got angry. I took the conversation with the call center boss and turned it into a blog post. I mentioned all the things I had done differently. I wrote about nuking mental illness from my life. I hit publish. People liked it. I wrote more pieces like it. I got messages on LinkedIn. Messages became opportunities. Opportunities led to customers. Customers allowed me to earn a modest living.
After seven years, the seven business failures turned into a career I could never have described to my future self.
I needed time to reflect on my startup downfall while working with other similar companies at my day job, to figure out what was next. The ridicule from the call center days was a misunderstanding, not fact. They didn’t understand because they hadn’t started businesses themselves.
So, of course, making fun of my catastrophic business failures was the natural thing to do. The lessons from the startup days became the blueprint for later success. It just wasn’t obvious at the time.
Life works in your favor when you’ve had time to reflect on what didn’t work out. Wisdom takes years to join the dots.
Heartbreak is selfishness in disguise.
All of my romantic break-ups have been the result of selfishness. I’d go on thinking I was a great partner.
It wasn’t. I put my own wants ahead of everybody else’s. If you do that enough times you’ll pretty quickly turn people away. The last to leave is your romantic partner. They try to stay, hoping you’ll change. When you don’t, they leave and find someone who doesn’t solely think about themselves.
Your love life starts working for you again when you step down from focusing on yourself. Heartbreak is trying to send you a message. Heartbreak is hoping you’ll look in the mirror and see the opportunity to work on your selfishness problem. Heartbreak is hoping to shift the scales in favor of a little selflessness.
Death is the reality of impermanence on display.
Watching someone you love die is tough. It can seem as though life isn’t fair.
Loss is hard to deal with. I’m sure you never get over seeing someone die. Death can feel unfair. Why them? Why did this loss have to happen to you? Sudden death is a surprise nobody is looking for. Now, if you’ve had multiple people you love die in a short space of time, then life really starts to look unfair. It can feel like you’re going through unlucky times — or you’re cursed. But death is working for you.
Death is trying to tell you to stop worrying about what everybody thinks. Death is telling you to hurry up. Death is telling you to focus less on money and more on the people you love. Death is telling you your time will come randomly too. Death is trying to tell you to start a family or get married, if that’s something you’ve wanted to do. Death is trying to get you to do that one thing you’ve been putting off your entire life.
Death is saying why wait?
Death is hoping your perception of time changes. Death is hoping you leave something behind for future generations. Death is hoping you stop destroying the planet for the people you love, who need it after you’re gone.
Seeing death is life secretly working for you.
You don’t live long. Death shows you you’re running out of time. Each day you’re slowly dying. So, now life can work for you. Because time has a different meaning.
Life isn’t going against you. Life is working in your favor when you own your story and take responsibility for what is next.