Fall in Love with Disaster

Things go wrong. They always do. Our instinct is to rage against our mistakes and twists of fate — to somehow right the wrong. But an old Stoic philosophy would differ, saying we should not only embrace fate, but love it.

Amor Fati (the love of fate) encourages you to make the best out of a bad situation. Want and example? Look no further than Thomas Edison.

In 1914, an explosion rocked Edison’s New Jersey lab complex. The chemical-fueled fire pierced the sky with 100-foot flames and the conflagration raged through five city blocks. Edison rushed to the scene only to see his life’s work engulfed in smoke, literally.

What was Edison’s response? A 1961 Reader’s Digest article, written by his son Charles, paints the picture:

In a childlike voice, Edison told his 24-year-old son, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.” When Charles objected, Thomas Edison said, “It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.”  

Edison viewed the disaster for what it was, a sign of fate. There was nothing he could do. Instead he saw the massive setback as an opportunity — a chance to do things better. He lost one-million dollars of capital (about $23 million today), but the very next year, his company made nearly ten-million in revenue. Truly snatching victory from defeat. 

The power of Amor Fati is in the attitude you take. So many of us focus on what we don’t want, obsessing over our problems or the sour hand fate has dealt us. Why not pour that energy into moving on and creating new endeavors? 

The goal of Amor Fati is a flip of mindset. It is not to just be content with what fate has given you. Not even feeling good about it. No. Amor Fati demands that we love that horrific thing that happened. It was meant to occur and we should be glad about it. Furthermore, we will make the best of it.

That’s a tall order. I admit, I can only very seldom shake myself into this love of fate mindset. But I’m always striving. Here’s how the mindset can work with us creative types:

  • My first novel utterly failed. That’s good. I can learn from the experience and move on to write a better one next time. 
  • My film was savaged by the critics. That’s okay. Honestly, it wasn’t the right project for me. I can do better. 
  • I just lost an art client I hated to work for. Good. With less stress and more time I can reflect and invent time into the clients I want to have. 

It’s the attitude we take toward disaster that lies at the core of Amor Fati. It feels entirely wacko to love the things we wished had never happened. But what other worse fates is this misfortune saving us from? How can we learn from this horrific experience? Are there any good experiences we might draw from the tragedy?

The great Stoic, Epictetus, put it this way: “Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.”

Wishing for better things will get us nowhere. At its essence, Amor Fati is about personal action. Something bad happened…? So, what are you going to do about it?

The good, the bad, the ugly…Fate has it all. Let’s see what we can make out of a bad situation.

Tim Kane

Leave a Reply