The Gifts and Purpose of Experiencing a Setback

Photo via Unsplash by Bruce Christianson

Photo via Unsplash by Bruce Christianson

We’ve all been there—those times when it feels like nothing is going your way or you’re faced with major disappointment.

Maybe you’re feeling cornered by life and the odds seem like they’re against you. Maybe you’re feeling stuck in a situation and you’ve lost sight of what matters.

Most of all you’re feeling frustrated and defeated. When we’re in a headspace like this, it often feels like we’re too close to the situation to regain honest perspective.

There’s the saying, “when it rains it pours”. While I don’t always agree with this statement, I totally get the feeling and have faced many times throughout my own life where it feels like it’s just one thing after the next and I can’t help but wonder, “what gives?” I witness many of my clients endure these phases of setbacks in their own lives and I, myself, recently went through yet another season of what I gently like to call “growing pains”.

Yesterday I shared a post on my Instagram about my experience, which inspired me to write a more elaborate blog post on the topic:

How do we find purpose and meaning when life feels like it’s falling apart?

Personally, my recent experience was a humbling reminder on how impermanence is really the only constant in life and how much suffering we actually create when we resist change. Re-reading Pema Chodron’s, “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times” was my saving grace during my recent growth spurt and I highly recommend it to anyone who needs a lesson or two on navigating the inevitable waves of change.

In her book, Pema says,

“When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.”

This may be one of the simplest and most “ah-ha!” pieces of wisdom out there. It’s certainly not the easiest to always practice but a grounding reminder to say the least.

The truth is, when it feels like the world is against us and we keep getting knocked down, the universe may be preparing us for our next beautiful chapter.

Sometimes, when things fall away, one-by-one, perhaps space is being made for new experiences to grow and evolve. And sometimes, if we’re not paying enough attention, the universe will keep delivering us the same lesson over and over again until we finally learn it—and that lesson may not always feel comfortable.

During this most recent season of change I was tested by many life-changing lessons. The word “test” here is crucial. Because even though these moments were uncomfortable and they even felt unbearable at times, I knew deep down that it was all for a higher purpose. I was being tested in my values, intentions, and purpose. I had to continually practice trusting that inner-wisdom. Having a consistent spiritual practice has been essential in maintaining this belief and it guided me through the growing pain. Being at the other end of it now, I can see so clearly how important it was for me to have had those uncomfortable experiences.

These challenges and setbacks helped redirect me back on to course. These experiences weren’t “failures” or “bad”—they were simply opportunities for my healing and growth. It reminded me of what’s truly important in life.

It re-enforced my sense of self and how I want to show up in this life. Sometimes we need a good ole’ wake up call to regain perspective.

Next time, when it feels like life isn’t playing in your favor—when you feel like your facing loss, after loss—I hope that you remember that there’s a rich, divine purpose in these moments. They’re essential in bringing us back to who we truly are.