When Things Go Terribly Wrong What to Expect and What to Do
Loss. Defeat. Failure. When life throws you a debilitating curve, as a healthy leader, what is your game plan?
Helen Keller, deaf and blind from the age of two, wrote about optimism. I have her book called The World I Live In and Optimism: A Collection of Essays in my library. I wonder if I could write as powerfully about optimism as she has if I experienced such tragedy in my life.
As leaders, others are looking to us for direction, so it is important to have a game plan to navigate these difficult times in life.
Tragedy is part of our journey.
Recently, I was talking to my 86 year old stepdad about death and dying. He said that he looks at dying as a different experience of life. Those who know Jack can attest that he is one of the happiest, active and most engaged people around. Only three weeks ago he told me he wants to start writing his second book about church missions. I know it will be wonderful just like the first book he published in May of 2014, A Tugboat Sailor.
Jack, the youngest of a large family, is the last surviving member. Except for a granddaughter and her family, everyone else has died. I asked myself, could I handle all that loss if it happened to me? Wait. When it happens. Of course I could be the first to go, but you never know. Tragedy is part of our journey. What if we expected it to happen?
Sometimes tragedy is unspeakably grave. Consider prominent 19th century lawyer, Horatio Spafford who lost all four of his children as they traveled to England across the ocean. Upon the news of their deaths, he traveled by ship across the same waters where their boat sank, and later wrote the powerful hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.”
The world is good.
How should we deal with tragedy, defeat, failure, and the calamities of life?
Helen Keller wrote, “The poets have taught us how full of wonders is the night; and the night of blindness has its wonders, too. The only lightless dark is the night of ignorance and insensibility. We differ, blind and seeing, one from another, not in our senses, but in the use we make of them, in the imagination and courage with which we seek wisdom beyond our senses.”
She also adds, “I proclaim the world good….optimism is the harmony between man’s spirit and the spirit of God pronouncing His works good.”
During times of change, risk, loss, pressure, failure, hurt, or defeat, we are naturally caught off guard. We are surprised and confounded with heavy emotions. What if we expect those times to come, because if you are a human, they will. What if we expect the strong emotions to come, recognize them, and have a game plan to eventually defeat them?
At some point, every human will go through one of these troubling events. Like Helen Keller, these events often begin happening early in life. But if we use them as a springboard to a higher level of existence, like Keller, we will be okay and maybe even a light to the darkness around us.
Expect hard times.
When things go wrong, all of us can experience:
- Loss of key people in your life
- Loss of a dream
- Failure at work
- Failure at home
- Life-altering events or changes
- Risky endeavors or situations
For me personally, I have gone through really difficult periods as well. Not near the level of Jack, Horatio, or Helen. But what will I do when it happens? Here is my game plan for when these things take place.
- Expect them and see them as normal.
- Anticipate heavy emotions and whispers of despair that difficult times will bring.
- Choose a different narrative to counter the heavy emotions and crippling thoughts that come with them.
Here are a few of the emotions and thoughts that come our way during these times.
Poor me. Why me?
These words are rooted in pity, disbelief, and shock. When traumatic events occur, the voices in our heads say things like: “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” Or, “That’s not what was supposed to happen.” Recognize these voices, and answer them as such, “I am human. Loss is a normal part of life. God loves me regardless of what happens. I will go on.”
Where is God?
A common and daunting question many ask during especially dark periods is, “Where is God?” The answer is, “He’s right here.” Whether you feel God’s presence or not, you can know He is there. As you work your way through it, seek Him. Allow the difficult circumstance to strengthen your faith, not destroy it.
I am a failure.
When we fail in a key area of life, another thing we tell ourselves is, “I can’t believe I did that. I am an idiot.” Don’t be afraid of failure. Be afraid of giving up. Don’t be afraid of acting stupidly. Be afraid of not learning from your mistakes and of repeating them. Expect this voice to come, and be sure to say, “I am smart, but in this instance I messed up. I will learn. I will be better because of it.”
I can’t go on.
This is a place of despair. “I am done. I just can’t go on anymore.” We must recognize when we are in this place. Somehow we must keep going. Helen did. Horatio did. Jack did. So can you and I.
It’s not my fault.
When we deal with failure, a very common thought is, “This is not really my fault.” It is easy to cast the blame onto others: our employees, our boss, our children, our parents, or even our President. We must stop that behavior as quickly as possible. Instead, we must ask, “What did I do (or not do) to lead me here?” And, “What can I do to get myself out of this situation?” Take responsibility and take charge.
I give up.
The most insidious of all these emotions, is one that happens sometimes without our notice. We silently give up. It’s okay to feel defeat and failure. We must force ourselves to stand up, shake off the dust, and try again. I ask you today, have you given up in some area where you see failure, tragedy, or defeat?
My friend, we are all human. Even the best of us are touched by misfortune. And when we are knocked down, the best of us stand back up again and fight. Don’t surrender to the cruelties of life. Hold on to God, and overcome them.
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