I still remember the tattoo on the mechanic’s arm as he fixed my car:
Life’s a bitch and then you die.
I was kind of impressed. Classic, hardcore, without any frills.
Then I got worried. Was he right?
After many big ups and downs, now ten years later I have to my final conclusion:
No, he wasn’t right.
What to do when life doesn’t go your way: a guide to survive and thrive
Life’s going to kick all of our asses in one way or another.
The difference between winners and losers is who gets back up again and who changes their strategy when an old method doesn’t work.
This is the rundown. Follow these steps and you’ll take whatever lumps of lead life gives you and turn them into gold.
1) Face it head-on
Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.
It’s also a very easy thing to do when life doesn’t go your way.
Essentially it is gaslighting yourself.
For example, say you are in love with someone and she doesn’t love you back. The pain of rejection is too much, so you lie to yourself and go sleep with many other women to cover the disappointment.
Instead, face the disappointment head-on.
Life has not gone your way in a significant way that’s hurt and angered you.
Be honest about it, because if you don’t face what’s really disappointing you then you won’t have any roadmap forward.
2) Focus on your sphere of control
When things don’t go your way in life, you’re obviously going to be upset and frustrated.
The natural instinct is to focus on those things and try to either force them to go your way or think a lot about why they didn’t.
There is no way to stop this reaction.
What you can do, however, is intentionally guide your focus and energy back to what is within your control:
Your own actions.
While the emotions and thoughts you have may be out of your control, what is in your control is what you do with them.
This is why it’s crucial to refocus yourself away from what went wrong and why it did, and begin focusing on what you can do next.
3) Find your purpose in life
Life has all sorts of ups and downs, many of them out of our control.
What we can do is adjust ourselves to seek out our purpose and find a roadmap for moving forward on this rocky road.
The idea that we all have a purpose is something that not everyone may believe, and even for those who do there are far too many charlatans and hucksters out there trying to give you an easy fix.
You know the type: sleazy gurus promising you’ll know your mission in life and what to do if you just raise your “vibrations” or envision the perfect future and act as if you already have it.
I learned about the power of finding your purpose from watching Ideapod co-founder Justin Brown’s video on the hidden trap of improving yourself.
Justin also reached a point of confusion where he wanted to know his purpose, but he got deep into the New Age movement and was taken for a ride by dishonest gurus who tried to convince him of the Law of Attraction and other ideas.
He found that instead of manifesting his ideal future, he was getting trapped in daydreams, so he made a change.
Four years ago, he traveled to Brazil to meet the renowned shaman Rudá Iandê, for a different perspective.
Rudá taught him a life-changing new way to find your purpose and use it to transform your life.
After watching the video, I also discovered and understood my purpose in life and it’s no exaggeration to say it was a turning point in my life.
4) Don’t take it personally
Life can go in ways that disappoint, sadden and frustrate us.
This may be losing a job, a partner, having a personal injury or suffering from any other number of unfortunate things including abuse, a fractured family relationship or friendship and more.
There are just so many things that can go wrong in life.
Maybe you get the job of your dreams but then find out you have a serious illness.
Maybe you comeback from years of depression only to meet the girl of your dreams and break up with her a year later, leaving you heartbroken.
Our tendency is to take these disappointments personally: the universe or God hates me!
But it’s not so. Like everyone else, your struggles in life are a refiner’s fire, and the key is what you do with them.
5) Be flexible, but not submissive
When life doesn’t go your way, it’s important to be flexible.
There is often more than one way to succeed or achieve your objective in ways you didn’t foresee.
Remaining open to that, or even to getting something you didn’t plan for that ends up being best of all is one of the keys to winning in life.
The crucial thing to avoid here is submissiveness.
Flexibility does not mean you sit back and let life happen to you however it wants to.
You still need to be proactive and action-oriented when life doesn’t go your way.
Which brings us to the next point.
6) Blaze a new trait
The end of one dream can be the start of a new one.
When one objective falls through or life goes against you in an upsetting occurrence (or lack of anything happening) this can be your chance to start over.
If a business fails, start planning for a new one.
If you’re forced to walk away from someone you love, begin focusing on loving yourself.
If you experience a health challenge, look at what it can teach you about your priorities in life.
Blaze a new trail. This setback can be the start of something new that you otherwise never would have done.
7) Check your expectations
Expectations can be very disappointing. They lead us on in so many ways, allowing us to build up a fantasy world hat then falls through and leaves us even more devastated.
If you’re the kind of person who builds up expectations, do your best to check yourself.
Remember: if you have low expectations they can only be met or exceeded, but high expectations have a bad habit of getting crushed.
“The problem with expectations is that none of them are particularly reasonable.
“An expectation is a hope in the future that you will get something that you want, and we don’t always get what we want.
“Sometimes we just get what we get. Sometimes we get nothing at all.”
8) Practice makes perfect
Many times when life lets us down it is a chance to practice.
The list of celebrities and star athletes who had a string of failures and disappointments and injuries before finally achieving success is massive.
You don’t need to be famous or a top tier sports figure to learn from this.
You too can choose to interpret failure as disappointment as a chance to practice.
9) Winning vs. learning
Many times, even when we get what we hoped for in life we soon find it underwhelming.
This is because often the core of what we desire is a feeling state rather than an actual person, place, job or so on.
The German stoic philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer called this the General Will, saying that even if you get what you want, you can’t want what you want.
Whether or not this bleak view is something you think is true, it’s certainly observable that many of those who outwardly succeed in life end up feeling empty and lost inside.
Focus on the inside and the deeper relationships you build, especially with yourself.
10) Someone else’s star?
Last and not least, make sure you’re not wishing on someone else’s star.
There are times when we really want something but don’t realize that for various reasons it’s not in our destiny or not something we would be well suited for.
On the other hand, also be cautious of denial as I warned at the beginning.
Sometimes a lost job is just a lost job.
Sometimes rejection is rejection.
Sometimes you want exactly what you think you want and you just don’t get it.
Don’t beat yourself up too much: anyone would be devastated.
The key is in what you do next and the steps you take following this setback.
Adjusting your sails
If you’re charting a course through rough conditions, you can curse the wind or adjust your sails.
I recommend option two.
Be honest about the problem or setback you’ve faced. Then take action to fix it.
If it is entirely out of your control, meditate on it and allow yourself to become stronger through patience and acceptance of pain or disappointment you can’t avoid.
You will get through this and see a brighter day.