Once I got an email from a woman who had just read my book on patience. She had just had a miscarriage and had discovered she had to wait for a few months before trying again. At first she was distraught and impatient. But she came to trust her body’s timing. She wrote, “Now I feel incredibly strong and no longer fear the waiting. This can only help me in other, less traumatic times when my impatience threatens to rear its ugly head.” This woman was failing forward—enhancing her ability to renew and re-create by focusing on what’s right about what’s wrong, which comes, as Joan Borysenko puts it, “when we lift ourselves out of the familiar axis and see life from a higher perspective.”

Like the pearl that is formed by the irritation from a grain of sand in an oyster, our greatest growth as human beings often come from the things we initially labeled failures or setbacks. I have two friends who say that breast cancer was the best thing that happened to them; one who says her husband leaving her was a blessing in disguise; another who claims losing her job was the greatest gift.

Cancer survivor and bicycling champion Lance Armstrong says this about failing forward: “The truth is that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me.…When I was sick, I saw more beauty and triumph and truth in a single day than I ever did in a bike race….The one thing the illness has convinced me of beyond all doubt—more than any experience I’ve had as an athlete—is that we are much better than we know. We have unrealized capacities that sometimes only emerge in crisis.”

None of us wants to have to suffer physical, emotional, or spiritual setbacks. But when such trials do come—and they most likely will, for each life has its measure of failure—we have two choices: to rail endlessly against what is happening or to experience our feelings of sorrow, fear, and anger, then allow the challenge to grow our souls. I’m writing this as I wait to find out if the lump that was removed from my foot last week is malignant. And I am inspired to believe I will grow no matter what happens by having received a photo recently. It was a picture of a baby from the woman who had had the miscarriage. What she learned by waiting, she wrote, has helped her enormously in dealing with an infant.

About MJ

A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her clients include Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hewitt Associates, and Frito Lay. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.


Author's Bio: 

Intent.com is a premier wellness site and supportive social network where like-minded individuals can connect and support each others' intentions. Founded by Deepak Chopra's daughter Mallika Chopra, Intent.com aims to be the most trusted and comprehensive wellness destination featuring a supportive community of members, blogs from top wellness experts and curated online content relating to Personal, Social, Global and Spiritual wellness.