Something happened in 1914 that I think we can all learn a lot from. At the age of 67, a fire engulfed Thomas Edison’s factory, destroying the majority of his life’s work.Meanwhile, Edison’s 24-year-old son, Charles, was busy frantically searching for his father. When he finally found him, Edison was calmly watching the fire, his face lit up by the glow of the flames.
The next morning, while searching through the rubble, Edison told his son, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”
During his lifetime, Edison accumulated 2,332 patents worldwide for his inventions, although, he is most famously known for creating the first long-lasting lightbulb. After the fire destroyed much of his work, he went on to attain nearly 100 more patents before his death at age 84. The point is, he never stopped.
The scary thing is that in order to give ourselves enough opportunities to succeed, we also must accept there is equal opportunity to fail - possibly hundreds of times. Diving in head first is as dangerous as it sounds.
It's become common practice to stamp a disappointing situation with a hearty "everything happens for a reason." But finding the value in failure is about more than just using a comforting phrase as a bandaid. You have to work to create the reason.
Throughout the past six months, I have been challenged to see my shortcomings as a gateway to better things.
From August 2015 – January 2016, I was making more money than I ever had due to some pretty high caliber writing contracts. I felt like I was finally on the cusp of getting paid what I was worth. As the editor of a small team of writers, I was also fulfilling my dream of helping others hone their skills, and as a writer myself, I was receiving encouraging feedback from my own editors. Could things stay this good forever? Of course not.
It all changed - and quite suddenly - as it often does in the freelance world. A prosperous contract wasn’t renewed because the company decided to go in a different direction, one publication was altogether discontinued, and another decided to put my column on hold – potentially indefinitely. It was three hard blows to my confidence and my bank account in a very short period of time. I was no longer sure of my next step.
In the midst of all this turmoil, I was also vying for a full-time position with CTV as the traffic reporter. Although I made it far in the interview process, I was not offered the job in the end. If there was ever a time to develop a permanent eye twitch, that was probably it. I felt like all the wheels I had set in motion came to a grinding halt and I was shoved from the precipice of my success with only a gorge of uncertainty beneath me.
Then something wonderful happened.
In life, there are really only two choices: get better or get worse. I was suddenly forced to consider other opportunities I would have overlooked if I was comfortable. I also started opening myself up to the idea that unexpected change is a good thing. It's also terrifying. But being uncomfortable is probably one of the best things that can happen to a writer – to anyone, really. It keeps you constantly on the hunt for more and always in a position to get better. It might also induce severe and prolonged bouts of panic; po-ta-to, po-ta-to.
As I go into my 26th year of life, I'd like to say I have the luxury of freedom. Whatever comes next is entirely up to me. That freedom is not easy, don't get me wrong. My days are a tug-of-war between euphoria and doubt, as if one side of my brain is chanting "you got this!" and the other side is saying "today is probably the day it all comes crashing down."
I don't have a list of "25 things I learned at 25," but what I do have is this: we aren’t supposed to know what comes next, not even close, not even a little bit. Also, being happy all. the. time would be exhausting and is a sign of being a psychopath. Probably.
I need life to shake me up every now and then so I can evaluate if I truly have a strong foundation. This year was all about finding my footing on that shaky ground, ironing out the kinks, and being OK to start from scratch on any given day.
If Edison can watch his life’s work go up in flames and bask in the heat, I too can look at uncertainty as an opportunity to build again, and maybe even roast some marshmallows while I'm at it.