How to start over after a bad ending

In 1914, a massive fire burned through Thomas Edison’s life’s work.

The flames engulfed five city blocks in New Jersey, including Edison’s lab complex. Fueled by chemicals, flames licked the sky at 100 feet high. The firefighters fought the fire from a nearby building called the Battery Factory, which had been built with his durable Edison cement and produced batteries for experimental vehicles.

Nikola Tesla, a rival inventor, heard the tragic news. He sent his condolences in a telegraph: “As one of the millions of your admirers, I send you my sympathy. It is not only a personal and national loss, but a world loss, for you have been one of its greatest benefactors.”

Newspapers ran articles on the story, clamoring about how the fire was the worst thing to happen to Edison, who was 67 years old at the time. Was this it for him? Was this how he would see all his hard work go down?

On the contrary, Thomas Edison said, “I’ll start all over again tomorrow.”

In fact, while he watched the flames engulf his operations, he noticed firefighters had trouble seeing in the smoke. Two days later, he invented a battery-powered searchlight, adding to his list of 1,093 patents. With the help of his wife and 7,000 employees, Edison rebuilt his operations up from the ground again.

Imagine that for a moment. One of the worst things to happen to an inventor — his life’s work going up in smoke — and he turned it into a source of inspiration. And then think about how you would respond.

Have you been through something catastrophic? And did you rise up from it?

When something suddenly happens to end the path we’re on, it feels like everything is crashing down. This can happen when you reach the endpoint of your job or career, the end of a relationship, or a lost opportunity.

You can’t help but feel disappointed, down, hopeless, frustrated, and stressed. At the time, it looks like you have nowhere to go, no place to run. The easiest thing to do would be to curl up in a ball and wish everything would go away.

While curling up in a ball isn’t a fruitful response, it’s definitely understandable. Sometimes, you do need to give yourself time to process what happened. You might be in too much of a state of shock to get up and go right away.

At the end of the day though, you need to realize one thing: you’re still here. In the aftermath of the devastation, you’re still standing. You may have experienced an ending, and a bad one at that, but what it really means is it’s the beginning of something new.

Change Your Attitude, Change Your Results

Are you looking back so much that it hinders your ability to look forward?

Your attitude affects your perception, which affects the decisions you make. Ultimately, that affects the results you get.

In a study on luck, it was found that lucky people don’t just naturally have the better roll of the dice. They really do see the world differently, giving them opportunities that unlucky people would have missed. Lucky people tend to carry a positive attitude, are observant, and open to new experiences.

For instance, if a bill was lying on the sidewalk, people would react differently depending on their personality traits. A lucky person would see the bill, pick it up, and consider it a very lucky day. An unlucky person might simply walk right past the bill without seeing it and lament about how uneventful their day was.

One situation, two different outcomes.

If Edison wasn’t observant while his work was engulfed in flames, he wouldn’t have noticed how the firefighters had trouble seeing through the smoke. He stayed positive, firmly believing that he could start fresh tomorrow, and set out to rebuild what was lost. Most other people would simply have stood there, watching in horror as their property turned to ashes.

An ending can be the catalyst to making big changes in your life. When one change happens, it makes you look around and see what else needs to be changed in your life. A lot of the time, we know that things can’t stay as they are, and yet we lack the initiative to make those changes.

Previous obligations that seemed fine can turn out to be deadweights, keeping you from better opportunities. You get so stuck in a loop that it’s hard to break out of it. It’s not obvious at first, but it becomes clear later when you look back.

You need to adopt a long term perspective to know that not everything is as it seems. Events that seem bad can be blessings in disguise. It’s a true test of patience.

When you try new things, there’s a lot of uncertainty. You don’t know what to expect. You’re forced into the deep end, trying to learn a lot of things very quickly. It requires having faith in yourself that things will work out eventually.

Ups and Downs

But just because things work themselves out doesn’t mean they work in the way you hope or expect. Not in the way you imagined at first, anyway. Over time, you slowly begin to see that what you want versus what you truly need is different.

There are times when you see something that makes you think, “I must have it.” For instance, you think you need to have a certain job, an opportunity, or an item that provides joy or usefulness. Not having those things is simply unthinkable.

But when those things are actually taken away, it’s almost always not nearly as bad as you think. You’ll probably feel down for a while, but then you cope better than you thought. You eventually fill that gap with something else and carry on.

A good metaphor for getting rid of the old to experience new is natural disturbances in forests. For thousands of years, forests have undergone fires, droughts, diseases, floods, and an array of other disasters.

Does that mean the forest gets killed off completely? Of course not.

In fact, a forest needs these disturbances to renew itself. Forest fires stimulate growth by releasing nutrients in the soil and opening the canopy to allow new growth. Diseases get rid of old growth and break down plant material to provide nutrients for new trees. In the forest, death and rebirth are simply a part of life.

The fires, floods, and drought in your life work in a similar way. If you stay still, comfortably nestled in one spot, you don’t how to react when something out of the ordinary happens.

But when you go through numerous disasters, you know what to expect. You’ve been through challenges before. You recognize that failures, successes, endings, beginnings, and everything in between are necessary components to growing as a person.

Sometimes You Need a Spark

It’s interesting that Edison was so calm about the incident. An incident that most people would find devastating. Why is that?

Before the big fire happened, Edison’s work itself was centered on experiencing many failures before reaching success. Edison must have been well-versed in discarding plans and starting from scratch. After all, he had acquired 1,093 patents under his name.

When asked about his many attempts before he eventually invented the light bulb, Edison famously said“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

But it’s not only large-scale inventors such as Edison that can start over. Many people have used tragic events to springboard towards new directions.

For instance, after a woman’s father had died, she experienced the grief that comes when someone important to their life passes away. But out of that sadness came a reflection on her own life. Her father’s death made her realize life is short, so she finally decided to pursue her passion of interior design.

There are countless stories of people who lost their jobs due to layoffs, and then eventually found their way into a career they enjoyed more. If they hadn’t experienced that initial unfortunate event, they wouldn’t have been forced to decide what to do. They would never have ended up doing something they loved much more.

The key lesson these people took in their circumstances was on how to direct their focus. Initially, they experienced sadness, anger, despair, and a range of other emotions about what had happened to them. But they were able to move past those emotions and focus on doing something within their control.

A Reversal in Perspective

We all experience unfortunate events. Many of them aren’t our fault. Some changes are irreversible. But instead of lamenting over what happened, you need to start asking what you can do.

What is within your control to change? What can you do today to make things better? How can you act in a way that is positive?

When you reframe what happened to you in the past, you can take those experiences and turn them into lessons for the future. What would you have done differently, what would you leave unchanged?

It’s important to recognize that there is something to be gained from everything, even from negative experiences. Sometimes good comes from bad. Let a bad ending be the fuel that pushes you towards a good beginning.

This article is from Medium.