The Illusion of Misfortune

Posted on April 29, 2014 by Robert Ringer


People often misread an event or circumstance as an adversity or setback.  The problem is that we tend to judge events on the basis of their immediate impact, but, as life repeatedly teaches us, the long-term consequences of an action can be quite different from what we initially observe.

The bad is superficial and obvious; the good often takes investigation and long-term observation.  It’s important to recognize that the true result of an event may take a long period of time to come to fruition.  Thus, misfortune and setbacks are frequently nothing more than illusions, which is why we so often fail to connect the long-term benefits to the seemingly negative situation that confronts us.

The truth is that adversity can serve as both a learning experience and a masked opportunity.  In fact, I would take it one step further and say that there is an offsetting opportunity in every adversity and every obstacle.  The trick is to develop the habit of automatically looking for the positive in every negative situation.

It took me years to develop this habit, but now, even when something seemingly terrible occurs, I immediately take a deep mental breath and start thinking about where the Conscious Universal Power Source is trying to lead me.  Some of the unexpected roads this has taken me down are nothing short of miraculous.

A classic example of this phenomenon that is especially dear to my heart is the story of how my first book was rejected by twenty-three publishers.  It was obvious that some of the publishers didn’t even take the trouble to look at my manuscript and simply returned it with form letters of rejection.  Others sent customized letters, many of which were brutally candid in telling me why my book was unsaleable.

While some of the harshest comments put a bit of a dent in my self-confidence, I was passionate about what I had written and I had a burning desire to get the book into the hands of the public.  So, in desperation, I decided to publish it myself, even though I had zero knowledge of the book-publishing business.

In fact, it would have been impossible to have been less prepared than I was to publish a book, but I didn’t let that stop me.  I certainly was not about to spend a couple of years learning the intricacies of the book-publishing business, which, as it turned out, can only be learned through experience anyway.

So, ignorance aside, something compelled me to take action.  Then, after I had five-thousand copies of my book printed up, a remarkable thing happened:  My bold (some referred to it as audacious) action resulted in an explosive expansion of my mental paradigm, though at the time I didn’t even know what a mental paradigm was.  I became resourceful beyond what I previously would have thought possible, and went way beyond the boundaries of so-called conventional wisdom in an effort to create my own opportunity.

Though I had no advertising experience, I decided to run ads in local newspapers and The Wall Street Journal.  The first ad I ran, in the San Antonio Express-News, produced such poor results that I lost 90 percent of my advertising investment.

I was shaken, but not deterred, so I sprung back into action and worked hard at analyzing what was wrong with my first ad.  Then, based on my analysis, I rewrote the ad and ran it in The Wall Street Journal.  The result was an early lesson in the importance of both choosing the right medium and coming up with the right advertising copy, because my next try in the Wall Street Journal resulted in a huge success, with sales nearly double the cost of the ad.

I soon worked my way up to full-page ads, and continued to run these ads in The Wall Street Journal for about nine months.  This resulted in sales of about sixty-thousand books and, more important, brought me a lot of attention.

The attention brought calls from Brentano’s (the most prestigious bookstore in New York City at the time), which offered to buy large quantities of my book if I would agree to their store’s name at the bottom of one of my ads; from Thomas Y. Crowell (later acquired by Harper & Row), which made a proposal to distribute my book to bookstores nationwide; and from Fawcett Publications (later acquired by Ballantine Books), which offered me what, at the time, seemed like an obscene amount of money to publish the book in paperback.

The book, Winning through Intimidation, ultimately climbed to #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List, which launched me into a string of three straight #1 best sellers.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that none of this would have happened had my book not been rejected by every publisher I submitted it to, because, as I subsequently learned through experience, 99 percent of books published by mainstream publishers — particularly major publishers — get zero advertising and little, if any, publicity.

So, what initially appeared to be an enormous adversity was, in fact, a hidden opportunity.  All that was required of me was to apply action and resourcefulness to an apparent obstacle, and the result shocked the mainstream publishing industry.

I’ve repeated this same lemons-to-lemonade trick so often over the years that I’ve lost count of the number of times that seemingly major obstacles have turned out to be great opportunities waiting to be exploited.  And the more I’ve done it, the more I’ve learned.

Best of all, each new learning experience makes it that much easier the next time around.  In the words of Richard Bach, “That’s what learning is, after all:  not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we’ve changed because of it, and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games.  Losing, in a curious way, is winning.”

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

21 responses to “The Illusion of Misfortune”

  1. Tim McMahon says:

    Excellent article!

    Your story reminds me of a quote by Thomas Edison– Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

  2. John E. Gabor says:

    Even today, with the internet, that would be an amazing accomplishment. It's a tired old cliché, but thanks, I needed that.

  3. Hugh Roberts says:

    Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” was also rejected by many publishers. It’s now a classic of literature.

  4. LFN says:

    Recommend combining this idea and your Detachment article idea into a book with alot of examples. It would be very useful and unique.

  5. TheLookOut says:

    Robert, another great article – Thanks

  6. Jose Jose Adame says:

    I'm greatly inspired by your article.

    Thanks Robert.

  7. Helen Spingola says:

    Your wonderful success re: adversity may not happen to others, sadly…..

  8. Marte says:

    Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected too – many, many times. I'll bet the publishers who said "feeling good" books won't sell wish they'd thought twice!

    Love your message, and I'm going to link to it from my weekly real estate marketing newsletter.

  9. Ron Maloney says:

    Wow-one of the most insightful and important meassages I,ve ever read.

    Thank you

  10. The path to success is never a straight upward line but is a meandering route with turn backs and side ways movement too.

  11. Bob Nesbitt says:

    The Conscious Universal Power Source? This from the man that wrote Winning Through Intinidation, Looking Out For # One and Restoring The American Dream! All books I purchased many years ago. The former libaterian turned Right Wing Rebublican. The Conscious Universal Power Source? Do they take credit cards.

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      "Right Wing Republican?" Sorry to disappoint, Bob, but I have never been a member of the Republican Party. Ever. It mystifies me how you could arrive at such a conclusion.

      • Jean says:

        Bob drew his conclusion based on his bigotry – in his world, anyone who doesn't worship government, believes in self-reliance and self-determination and has a relationship with a "Conscious Universal Power Source" (a.k.a. G_d) MUST be a "right-wing Republican" (also a racist, a homophobe and an evil, greedy capitalist who loves oil and hates children.) I'm sure Bob will add to this list of stereotypes when he receives his next e-mail from DNC talking points headquarters.

  12. Tom says:

    Mistakes, failures, blunders … The best teachers you ever had!

  13. stogiechomper says:

    Mark Twain was rejected by a publisher and later went on to become one of America's most famous authors. The publisher wrote an apology to Twain some years later, stating that he, the publisher, would probably be remembered as "the prize ass of the Nineteenth Century."

    No doubt the publishers who rejected Ringer's book also lived to regret their decision. Guess they weren't as brilliant as they thought they were.

  14. Muthuswamy says:

    What a nice way to face a negative situation! This helps really.

    “I immediately take a deep mental breath and start thinking about where the Conscious Universal Power Source is trying to lead me. Some of the unexpected roads this has taken me down are nothing short of miraculous.”

    The opposites of significant impact on a decision are short term & long term end results and tangible & intangible end-results. Unfortunately the tangible gets much more importance than intangible in our decision – making process and also short-term over long-term. So I came out with a method of decision making that revolves around what I call “ thinking in opposites”. This is the model I propose in my e-book success through opposites:
    Think through the two opposites of what best can happen and worst can happen for two opposites YES and NO. In each of best and worst think through in two opposite parameters- short term and long term and tangible and intangible. That is, what best can happen in the short term and in the long term and in tangibles and intangibles. Similarly what worst can happen in the short term and in the long term and in tangibles and intangibles. The best and worst NOT for oneself but for the receiver systems of what ever you are contemplating to do.
    Making use of this thinking before coming to a decision has helped us enormously in our consultancy assignments. This chart puts a balanced emphasis on both and short term implications and both the tangible and intangible aspects of a decision.
    Incidentally my e-book Success through Opposites is in the same situation now as your first book you mention! But that is fine, I am sure I am making a path-breaking pitch in managing our mind in that book and I am learning too!

  15. Murray Suid says:

    Robert, are there any situations in which misfortune–bad news–cannot be transformed into something positive?

    For example, let's say that I'm falsely convicted of a crime and sent to prison for 20 years. During the first 10 years, I decide to become educated and study hard. That's good but I'm still in jail. Let's say that after 15 years evidence is found proving that I was innocent, and I'm now freed. While clearly I used prison time for a good purpose, and maybe even developed some friendships, can we be sure that the misfortune has been overturned?

    I ask these questions because in your case big time success happened. But mathematically speaking, everyone can't have that magnitude of success. So your example, while inspiring, leaves unanswered some questions about the weight of serious misfortune.

    I do agree with your message that it's better to problem solve and work than to complain and quit. That's a key lesson I'm still learning, and your story helps. But how about when big-time success doesn't happen?

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      Misfortune cannot be deleted. When something bad happens, it is a reality for eternity. But you can use that misfortune as a springboard to something positive. The other alternative is to dwell on the misfortune and allow it to permanently affect your life. As I said, that the misfortune happened is an eternal fact. But it doesn't stop you from making tomorrow better.

  16. Rick D'Amico says:

    Yes Robert, and if It were not for the publishing of "Winning Through Intimadition"' I would not have read it when I was starting out in my career, and would not have been a success. I still have my original copy! Thank you Robert Ringer.


    Rick D'Amico

  17. Richard Lee Van says:

    Having become a "repetitious old man", I often tell the storIES of how my misfortunes each led to a new and better phase of life. "Thank God for our challenges for it is through them that we grow!" Richard Lee Van Der Voort

  18. Rick D'Amico says:

    I can't begin to tell you how misfortune has has been a springboard in my career. One day, I was suddenly fired from my management job at a mid-western radio station. On a whim, on the very same day, I made a call to a television station in the same city, and was hired that very same day as at TV Weather-caster. This lead to a successful Television career, and I'm still on the job at the age of 70. If it weren't for misfortune, I wouldn't be here.