Life Lesson That I Least Expected

Setback and disappointments frequently lead to a better outcome than you expected- or imagined

Oh, come on- people just say that to make themselves feel better after a setback or disappointment. You don’t really mean that.

Yes I do.

And, as time goes on, I’m even more convinced that it’s true.

People don’t like considering this idea, because it also means that many great things in life happen after disappointment. This concept also implies that better outcomes are out of your control.

Don’t believe me? Let me try to convince you.

  • My 30+ year marriage is to someone I started dating when neither of us had the least amount of interest in dating. That was February of 1985…
  • My career (writing, video work) was completely unplanned and nothing I imagined even 10 years ago, when I worked as a CPA
  • It’s not just me: my circle of friends have had similar experiences. I could provide dozens of examples

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Courage and faith

Understanding that a setback can lead to a surprisingly better outcome requires two personal traits: courage and faith. Here’s what I mean:

  • Courage: Lawrence of Arabia was my mother’s favorite movie, and it’s based on the true story of E. Lawrence, a young British officer who helped the Arabs fight the Turkish forces in World War 1. Throughout the movie (which is over 4 hours long), Lawrence faces one challenge after another, but always moves ahead. Courage- in spite of the fear.


  • Faith: Admiral James Stockdale was held for eight years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict, where he was tortured more than 20 times by his captors. He had a world view that became known as the Stockdale Effect (or Parodox): Stockdale was completely realistic about his situation- that he may never get out alive. But, he also was completely convinced that he would eventually get home. He had faith in the unknown.

A belief that setback and disappointments frequently lead to a better outcome requires courage and faith. Courage, because this belief may not make sense to most other people in your life. “Oh- you’re just being overly optimistic”, they may say. It takes courage to be counter cultural. It also requires faith, since the disappointments will require you to hang in there and believe in a better future.

If you’ve had a financial setback, this article may help you.

Everyone’s in the same boat

We’re all in the same boat- none of us can predict when or how difficulties occur. All we can control is how we respond to them. To illustrate, take a look at these hugely successful people- and their first jobs:

  • Michael Dell, Dell Computer: Sold newspaper subscriptions (Net worth $23 billion)
  • Michael Bloomberg, Bloomberg: Parking attendant (Net worth $47 billion)
  • Jeff Bezos, Amazon: McDonalds employee (Net worth $90 billion)

These three billionaires had the same first jobs that everyone has- nothing glamorous. And like everyone else, they had their share of setbacks and disappointments- but succeeded anyway.

Hitting bottom

For myself- and many friends- it took a real baseball bat to the face before this life lesson took hold. It’s like the scene with Hal Holbrook and Charlie Sheen (Bud Fox) in the movie Wall Street. It may take a big, traumatic event in life to think deeply about this concept.

It works for me- best of luck!

Ken Boyd

Author: Cost Accounting for Dummies, Accounting All-In-One for Dummies, The CPA Exam for Dummies and 1,001 Accounting Questions for Dummies



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This post was originally posted on my Quora page.

Image: Girl boxer in ring, David Rosen, (CC By 2.0)

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