How crushing defeat leads to great victory

Sunrise through dark clouds
Flickr user Sean MacEntee

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Just about every great thing that's ever happened to me in my life occurred after a crushing defeat or loss. And you know what? I'm pretty sure they were directly related. One wouldn't have happened without the other. 

Why is that important and why now? Because times are hard and I know that a lot of you need to hear it, understand it and believe it. And you should, because it's true.

Skeptical? Then listen to this. In his famously inspiring 2005 Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs said, "I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me."

Why? Because, after that devastating event, he founded NeXT and Pixar, met the love of his life, and ultimately returned to Apple where he led the greatest turnaround in the history of corporate America. And Jobs attributes all those great things to his "very public failure" at Apple:

"I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith."

Stop trying to be like Steve Jobs
Why failure is a gateway to success

While my defeats may not have been as public, and my victories were nowhere near as dramatic as Jobs's, they may as well have been because to me, they sure felt that way. And that speech resonates with me because in my experience, success and happiness has always followed failure and loss.

I'm not sure why that is, but it appears to be true. That said, there is a catch.

It's not preordained and it's not that way for everyone. It depends on how you react to it, how you handle it. Not immediately, of course. Everyone feels sad and depressed when they get fired, lose their job, or for whatever reason, feel that everything they've lived for has been ripped away from them.

But after a while, something important happens, at least to me. I feel like, if I can live through that, I can live through anything. I feel lighter, unburdened, able to take greater risks and work with greater stamina and clarity. I'm more open to people, opportunity and adventure.

After surviving disaster, I have always just let go. I let go of material expectations and pressures I put on myself. I let go of what I thought mattered because I realized how little they actually did. That, for me, has always been the key. Letting go.

A long time ago, an old business associate was telling me about how a fire destroyed his entire home. His family -- his wife and four kids -- had all their possessions and mementos destroyed. They were displaced for months. But what surprised him the most about the experience was the unexpected realization that everything he lost didn't add up to much while what remained -- his family -- was all that mattered. He found the whole experience to be strangely and inexplicably uplifting.

In the Stanford speech, Jobs was blunt and eloquent as always when he said, "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose."

If you've never experienced great loss, you probably can't fully appreciate how empowering that message can be. But if you have or if you're experiencing it now, then you definitely need to hear it, understand it and believe it. Because in my experience, no truer or more powerful words have ever been spoken.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Sean MacEntee.