The Identical Twins of Triumph and Disaster

Some people are world transformers.  We choose to go headlong into the breach, to try something, to build something, to create something that didn’t exist before.  People are not born risk-takers or leaders, or innovators, or founders.   We acquire the ambition, the skills, the experience and the know-how along the way, often at difficult cost.  Even if it’s a small thing, a side-gig, a project,  putting your time, your name into something requires a measure of courage.

Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”  has become a favorite of mine over the years.   It’s a poem about growth, and what it means to be “a man” — or as I, a woman consider it, about being a fully realized transformer of the world.

One line in it, in particular, speaks to me:

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;  
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
I’ve seen many disasters turn into just the right opportunity for moving forward– and so many triumphs turn into OMG cesspools.  They are twins,  sometimes identical, fraternal,  with common threads.   It may be hard to see it, but they are  wave-top experiences in a dynamic flow of change and growth.

Triumph and Disaster As Twins

Triumph, like disaster, is fleeting.  It is a brief moment, in a sea of moments — and it’s all downhill from there.  If you’ve won a great prize, well now you have to live up to that reputation.  There’s are big downsides — professional jealousy, raised expectations in performance, the problem of keeping up the momentum when the effort to reach that place– was epic.  When do we get to rest?
I’ve found myself isolated by success,  just as I found myself isolated by disaster.  Trying to better my best effort means I have to be in shape to take on new risks and court the possibility of disaster yet again, with higher stakes.  And then, these twins often come together; when they do,  triumph AND disaster can be totally head-spinning.   They can lead to total life collapse — when forces too big to manage collide and everything changes.

Post-Traumatic Stress vice Post Traumatic Growth

At the peak of one of my first, serious innovative coup, my husband died.  It was inexplicable, a healthy man of 45 dead of cancer,  a mere 24 hours after his diagnosis.  It was shocking and combined as it was with the unexpected death of my mother, a few months before, personally very devastating.   My beloved was gone. My life partner — disappeared — as if he’d been hit by truck or kidnapped by aliens.  The hole in my life nearly sucked me all the way in.

I discovered the anger and pain, shock and anxiety that is collectively referred to as “widow anger.”  It is a crucible of pain and fury that pours out of a widow, spills out defiantly with an energy that is difficult to manage.  I became the queen of the F-bomb. The pain and trauma were more than I had experienced even when I was forced to change careers by equally difficult circumstances.

I had to overcome it.  I had to master it.  I had a young son and a college freshman daughter — miles to go in parenting and in career.   It was that scene out of Mulan, where she learns to use those two disks to drag herself to the top of the pillar.  I could see the pain and anger as weights — holding me down and back– or I could use them to push me forward and higher.   It was, very simply, the dark night of the soul.

people scrambling up a pole
There were many days — if not most days, when my life felt like this.

Trauma like these changes us.  But we get a vote. We can choose to make our pain define us, or we can toss the victim card and move ahead. This was the toughest road I have ever walked.

I was along the road by Martin E. Seligman’s work on positive psychology. I especially like this book, Flourish,  where he discusses post-traumatic growth as a way to get beyond helplessness–to fight back against the bitterness, anxiety and confusion of traumas–and how that leads us re-tell our stories to ourselves in ways that can build us up.

Disasters Are a Step Back.  They give us room to leap forward.

Many a female founder (especially those over forty) have experienced these collapses.  The ones that occur in the wake of triumphs are especially hard to take in.  Just when we have things figured out, just when we are beginning to make serious progress, something goes sideways.  It’s important to remember that its all part of a process.

You might be a world transformer,  if you’re experiencing significant life collapse — and you refuse to go down with the ship.   If you get up every freakin’ day and give it what you can, with the kind of grit that Angela Duckworth is talking about — then you very well might change things not just for yourself–but for everyone.   Duckworth cites “passion and perserverance” as the key components of success — in any field and in any undertaking.   From my personal experience, I can say that bringing up others around me, working collaborative, expansively, has made all the difference.

Life collapse comes in many ways.  It is a challenge to survive, spiritually and emotionally.   It can even threaten our health.  Life collapse occurs when our old ways of doing things, our ways of being, thinking, and living are no longer available to us.  Our former supports disappear.  Friendships are changed forever–even lost–because our friends no longer even recognize us.  We can’t give them whatever it is they wanted from us before.   It is the dark time.  But it will pass more quickly if we can get up and move forward. We will be changed.  That’s why its like the wave tops–the sea pulls back from the shore in order to rise higher.  Strength will come.   (And  if this is you, right now, I’m sorry you’re in pain.  Pain seems often accompany real growth–and this is why I have issues with God. Growth can be so very hard. )

The last stanza of If goes like this:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
If you’re dealing with more than you can handle, if you’re tired and unhappy and struggling, this post is for you.   Here’s my re-write, my wish for you as you figure out where you’re going and what the next move is for you.  Perhaps it’s a kind of prayer.
Yours is the Earth and everything’s that it’s in it. 
   And you’ll find your place in the Sun. 
Take care of yourself.  Rest when you can, but not too much.  Get out there and hold your head high.


Disclaimer:  I am an Amazon Affiliate.  I might get a few cents toward my ten-dollar gift certificate if you purchase books or other goods by clicking links on my site.

More soon ~ Thanks for dropping by ~ Lola.



Author: Lola

Recovering academic, real-life, honest to cornflakes anthropologist (Ph.D. and fieldwork and everything), tech-head and social media researcher.

6 thoughts on “The Identical Twins of Triumph and Disaster

  1. Wow! What a compelling, rich, and insightful post. Beautifully written and full of wisdom. I’m sorry for the loss of your husband at such a young age. You are a model for others, and I think it’s wonderful how your example will give people who are suffering hope for a better future.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words. If I help even one person going through the dark times, then that’s what matters. 🙂

    1. Again, thanks! My blog divides its time between teaching blogs and career / life philosophy / thought pieces like this. I so appreciate the support!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.