If we cannot deal with loss, we cannot live an effective life. Sometimes, failure and loss can be life-altering. But if we do not process these challenges as they come, we will wallow in sorrow every day of our lives—whether we dwell on previous losses, current failures, dreams dying, or unmet expectations, personal or professional, with family or with friends.
As leaders, we must develop the skill and ability to handle loss and failure in a way that is healthy and healing. Otherwise, we will be consumed with emotions and unproductive thoughts and become paralyzed, unable to move forward.
I want to share with you today some thoughts on how to overcome loss or failure and get back on your feet.
Last week I met a remarkable woman, Jane Mwangi, who reminded me what it means to fight back. A bright, young, successful journalist, Jane was on her way to a great personal and professional life in her home country of Kenya. Then one day while walking home, three men approached her. At gunpoint, they commanded that she give them her money. She gave them everything she had. They demanded the password to her phone so they could access her stored credit cards.
Facing the gun, Jane could not remember the password she used multiple times a day, so one of the men shot. The bullet entered her right chest and exited through her spine, paralyzing her from the waist down.
I met Jane last week, approximately two years following her life-changing experience. She came to speak to us at work, as she spends most of her time in Dallas now for therapy. She spoke to us about hope. About courage. About fighting back. A remarkable lady with tremendous kindness and heart, she beamed with a radiant smile. The news featured Jane in this quick video.
THREE ZONES THAT EXIST AFTER LOSS OR FAILURE
Later the same morning I was talking to a leader who felt a deep sense of professional failure. His emotional agony was palpable, and I perceived his backward flow of momentum. It led me to contemplate failure and loss, and what I believe to be three zones in which we can end up. If we are not careful, we can stay in the first two unhealthy zones indefinitely. I have seen people live the rest of their lives in these two zones after loss or failure. Healthy leaders learn to move into Zone Three, like Jane did. Allow me to break down the three Zones.
ZONE ONE: THE EMOTIONAL ZONE
This is the place where our emotions take over. We may be defeated, crushed, or sad. We may feel betrayed, angry, or frustrated. We may have deep regret or despair. We see no way out. Everything has ended. Our life is over. That’s sometimes how we feel.
We must allow ourselves time to process these emotions. Unchecked however, these emotions can take over our lives, for days, months, even years—in some cases, a lifetime. While it is natural to feel these emotions, we must recognize that taking up residence in this zone will prevent us from living and leading in a healthy way. Therefore, we must choose to move out of Zone One as soon as we can.
ZONE TWO: THE LOSS ZONE
After the Emotional Zone, or perhaps while we are still there, we begin thinking of the terrible implications that resulted from what happened to us. We examine the terrible consequences, not in an emotional way, but in a level-headed way. For Jane it must have been something like, I cannot believe I will lose my career as a journalist. I cannot make a living like I wanted.
This is the what if zone. What if I had made it? What if I had not failed? What if my loved one had not died? What if my wife was different? What if my son was not sick? We daydream. We reminisce. We calculate our losses.
While this may seem to be a more manageable zone than Zone One, it is not beneficial beyond the quick evaluation of what happened. If we allow ourselves to keep analyzing the past, we will not move forward. The Loss Zone is about looking backward, and continuing to look backward. We must curtail our tendency to stay in Zone Two.
ZONE THREE: THE FORWARD MOMENTUM ZONE
The quicker we get to this zone, the better. The Forward Momentum Zone is where we acknowledge and ask, “Okay, something terrible happened. Now, how do I move forward? What are the next steps? What are my future opportunities?” We must tenaciously fight to stay in this zone. We have to claw our way out of the Emotional and Loss Zones. We must be stern against our natural tendency to keep looking back to assess what happened.
So what can we do in the Forward Momentum Zone?
1) Realize that by design, life has no guarantees.
2) Trust that God is sovereign and is with you. Try something new.
3) Look for opportunities. Simply reflect on the question, “What are my options now?” Approach it positively.
Jane has become a motivational speaker. She is making a beautiful difference in the lives of others. After she spoke to us, I asked her to speak with a colleague who was having personal difficulties. She genuinely wants to bless people.
My friend, and dear leader, remember these zones. When failure or loss come, and they will, be ready. Don’t stay in the Emotional Zone or the Loss Zone. Whatever has happened, don’t take too long to start moving forward and looking ahead. Refuse to keep rehashing the past and asking what if?