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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Life Changing Lessons from Failure & Adversity

 by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS

Founder, Celtic College Consultants

"If you learn to use it right, the adversity, it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn't have gone any other way."

- Quote from a TEDx talk.




In March, 2018, the University of Virginia became the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 in the March Madness college basketball finals. If you, like me, don't follow sports, just know that this is bad.  Very bad.

We can only imagine how demoralized the team was. When you are ranked #1 and lose in the first game of the playoffs to the team that just barely qualified for the playoffs, the unthinkable has happpened. You doubt your ability, your coach, your teammates. You are embarrassed and face joke after joke from people around you. The sense of failure must have been overwhelming. This is the kind of event that people tend to follow with a series of bad decisions, like to quit or get drunk or, well, you get the picture. However, after watching a TEDx talk, UVA's basketball coach, Tony Bennett, decided to use that historic loss to his team's benefit.

Over the next year, rather than shying away from talking about the loss, the players and coaches instead talked about it as much as possible. And they didn't simply recount the details and share their pain and start playing the blame game or wallow in self-doubt. No, each time they talked about it, the team talked about what they learned from the loss. This had to be difficult at first. After a failure, especially a public one (and you can't get more public than national television!), we tend to be blind, to resist even the idea that there are lessons to be learned from the loss. Just thinking about it is too painful. However, this was different.


What Coach Bennett learned from watching the TEDx talk is that when you tell the story about something bad that's happened, you're not telling the story to change what happened.  You're telling the story to change YOU. When something happens to you, it sits on top of you like a rock. And if you never tell the story, it sits on you forever. The weight of it crushes you, the pain is ever present, as if you were soaking in it. On the other hand, as you begin to tell the story, little by little, you climb out from under that rock and, eventually, you climb up and sit on top of it.


The story doesn’t change what happened, but the story has the remarkable power to completely change our whole relationship to what happened."

It worked for UVA's basketball team.  They faced their story - that historic loss in March, 2018.  And when the March Madness tournament rolled around in 2019, they won the championship. They climbed out from under the rock of the historic loss and sat on top of it with the championship.

So this week, think about an adversity you've gone through, face your story, and see how you are changed and made stronger!

Here's the TEDx talk that was referenced. With thanks to Scott and his team at Say it with Gratitude.

For more information about Katherine O'Brien and her College Success Program and college prep services, please visit