Early in my career I was very successful in the advertising industry. Before the age of 30 I had been promoted from a graphic design position to a strategy role where I was soon given an executive title. But this success did not make me happy. Behind the job titles, the fast paced lifestyle, the happy hours and the girlfriends, I was miserable.
Desperate to escape the rat race, I recalled that my childhood dream was to be a writer. So I took a leap of faith. I traded my career, my apartment, and my possessions in exchange for a one-way ticket to New York City, two suitcases, and the recollection of something Paulo Coelho had written – “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
I had barely arrived, and was struggling to make ends meet, when Hurricane Sandy hit the city like a Mike Tyson left hook. My apartment turned into a fish tank, and suddenly I was homeless.
Learning to trust uncertainty.
Since I had nowhere to stay, and New York City was in a state of devastation, I had no choice but to open myself to whatever opportunity the universe presented. My self-will was broken and I was at the mercy of grace. So when a friend offered his empty cottage on Culebra, a small Caribbean island, as a place to seek refuge, I said yes without hesitation.
Arriving on Culebra, I felt like a failure. Months earlier I was a successful professional. Now I was alone on an island with nothing to my name but hope, and even that was fading. What I did not realize was that sometimes our greatest failures create space for our greatest transformations.
The universe was asking me to slow down. Perhaps it had been asking for a long time, but I had been too distracted to listen. But alone on Culebra, sitting on Flamenco Beach, there was nowhere left to run. I was alone with my thoughts. All of my worries and insecurities rose to the surface.
I realized that I had two voices inside my head. One was my Ego, the other was my Higher Self. In my rush to achieve success, I had spent years listening to my Ego. But on Culebra there was nothing to achieve, so the voice of my Higher Self, a softer voice, began to break through.
5 lessons failure teaches us
While the experience was painful, becoming homeless and seeking refuge on Culebra turned out to be a gift from the universe. Not only did I learn to distinguish the difference between my Ego and my Higher Self, but what I had perceived as failure actually created space for my dream – becoming a writer – to come true.
My new book, Sh#t Your Ego Says, starts on Culebra and goes on to explore the role of the Ego and the Higher Self in every aspect of our daily lives, including career, relationships, sex, and the pursuit of fame.
This is what my journey has taught me about failure:
Sometimes what we need is different from what we want. The Ego has desires but those desires are not always in our best interest. When we listen closely, failure can open us to the intuition of the Higher Self.
We can’t do everything alone. Failure is a reminder that life is a collaborative effort. Success is not the result of selfish action, but rather the mutual outcome of people working together toward a shared goal.
There might be a better way. Failure does not always mean no. Sometimes it just means not this way. When the door it locked, don’t force it open. Simply look for another door.
Failure is a better teacher than success. We don’t learn much from success. But failure is helpful because it puts us in a state of reflection, and reflection is a form of meditation. When we meditate on failure we emerge smarter and stronger.
Character is forged in fire. Success is not the result of what we do; it is the result of who we are. Life never gets easier. But we can become strong enough to make it seem easy.
James McCrae is the author of Sh#t Your Ego Says, Meditation Teacher and award-winning strategist and writer at the intersection of creativity and mindfulness. He works with people and organizations around the world to unlock creative potential and turn imagination into results. An avid supporter of basketball, burritos, and yoga, James lives in New York City.
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