The people that history regards as the most successful generally experienced great failures. The most elite scientists and inventors are prime examples. Although most people think of them as being brilliant geniuses who had stunning success, that is the often exception of their lives rather than the rule. A more honest profile of our greatest scientists and inventors is one of long strings of failures and disappointments, some of them epic in scale, and then a success.
Hopelessness is the one thing above all others that robs a heart of peace. A person feels hopelessness when he believes he cannot expect his condition to improve.
For example, a woman who has suffered several failed attempts at marriage and is getting to the end of her childbearing years may despair of ever finding a good mate and begin to feel that she is doomed to live her whole life alone. Or, a man who has been laid off from work and has been turned down time and time again in his hunt for another job may begin to seriously doubt his worthiness and feel hopeless to secure a good living.
There is no doubt that these situations are painful. Disappointment, loss, and failure cause real pain, sometimes very severe. Yet, no one prepares us to deal with this pain because they do not teach us that we will face it. Instead, we are taught that if we work hard enough and live a clean enough life, our lives will be successful and we will be happy. Such altruisms are well-intentioned but misguided, giving the impression that only people who have done wrong, not worked hard enough, or made a serious mistake will ever face disappointment or failure. They lead people to believe that if they do everything right, they will always be successful at whatever they try. So we are surprised when we fail, when we are turned down, or when we meet with loss, and one of our first instincts is to assign blame, either to ourselves or others. But blame does nothing to assuage the pain, is often misplaced, and entirely ignores the probability that there is simply no blame to assign. You can “do everything right” and still meet with tragedy. One of the true facts of life is that even the best people experience disappointment and failure.
“Do people think they will be left alone saying: ‘We believe’, and not be tried? And certainly we tried those before them so Allah will certainly know who are true and He will certainly know the liars.” (29:2-3)
The people that history regards as the most successful generally experienced great failures. The most elite scientists and inventors are prime examples. Although most people think of them as being brilliant geniuses who had stunning success, that is the often exception of their lives rather than the rule. A more honest profile of our greatest scientists and inventors is one of long strings of failures and disappointments, some of them epic in scale, and then a success. Many of them spent decades pursuing an idea or an invention, one attempt after another failing, personal lives falling apart and financial ruin happening more than once, before they achieved what they became known for. What made them go down in history as brilliant successes was only that when faced with repeated disappointment and failure, they didn’t quit.
What will define you and your life more than anything else is likely to be how you handle disappointment or failure. Eliza Tabor once wrote, “Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.” Although you might hope to be someone remembered for a success, what will make or break you is how you live your darkest hours. Hard times are coming to you, to all of us – that is part of life. What will you do in those hours? Will you wither away, will you change your self-image to one of a failure, will you quit, will you become bitter, will you withdraw from or abuse your family, will you define yourself as a victim?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” People who are destroyed by disappointment and failure crumble because of hopelessness. It is true that we will not get everything we aim for in life. Maybe you will face a debilitating injury, or you will divorce, or you will have to drop out of your dream college to support your family, or you will fail in running your own business. But none of these will bar you from contentment or a bright future. The only thing that robs you of either of these is hopelessness.
“…and despair not of Allah’s Mercy; surely none despairs of Allah’s Mercy except the unbelievers.” (12:87)
Maybe you dream of a promotion and think you really need it to be happy. Then the promotion goes to someone else. And so does the next one and the one after that. How do you respond? What you are faced with now is an opportunity. You can either become mired in despair, or you can adapt and grow. What would be the point of living if you were never tried? If you always got everything you aimed for, you would never develop as a person. If you never experienced disappointment, you would never truly appreciate or enjoy your successes.
Failing to get that promotion may make you more compassionate to others facing similar problems. A disappointment or failure is an opportunity for you to learn something about yourself and to make yourself into a better you. And ultimately, that is far better than getting everything you think you need or want. With the pain of loss, disappointment or failure comes greater potential for gain than from anything that comes to you easily.
If you’ve lived long enough, you can think of an example when something did not go your way but the outcome ended up being far better than what you originally envisioned for yourself. Looking back, you can see that the disappointment had really just been a test of your patience. Chances are, your situation turned around only after you had processed your disappointments and trusted Allah to bring you the best outcome even if it wasn’t what you envisioned for yourself.
When you open yourself to the mercy of Allah and entrust your affairs with Him instead of shrouding yourself in increasing hopelessness, then you are more likely to find what your best hopes – mercy, and an outcome better than you could have envisioned through your own limited imagination. Hopelessness is in essence denying the possibility of that mercy and limiting your life to the limits of your own imagination. Through disappointments, the mystery of the interplay between free will and destiny reveals itself in our lives. We plan, but Allah is the best of planners. Your disappointment may just be the segue into the next great chapter in your life.
As you face disappointment, it is natural to hurt. But don’t let that pain deprive you of the hope for a better tomorrow – whether one according to your own vision, or one gifted to you through the limitless vision of your Creator. As long as you retain hope, you can find peace and contentment in the face of any hardship.