Not long ago I learned a life lesson when I took a chance on a high-risk investment and lost over $10,000.  In the scheme of what's important in life, I realized the monetary value of the potential gain was not as valuable as the loss.  Lesson learned, too late.  

But maybe my insight can help you avoid a new mistake or get over one you already made.

"What have I done?!"

I did not begin to realize the risk I took until the moment I got the bad news.  Still, the full extent of emotions, anchored with regret, continued to affect me for several weeks until I reached a greater revelation of my hard lesson.   

Before I get into that, I'd like to share some discoveries I made throughout my journey that I hope can help many of you.  It starts like this...

We all take risks.  Some cost more than others. 

Days following my loss, I ran into an old friend.  He and his wife had divorced many months before and when I asked what happened, he was rather reluctant to discuss it, at first.  But later he admitted he was unfaithful. 

He was married for many years and had two beautiful children.  He explained his mistake wasn't easy to make and it wasn't spontaneous.  He thought about the consequences a great deal.

However, it's effect on his life was even more catastrophic than he imagined.  He further admitted his decision to cheat was one he cannot believe he made and is one that he continues to dwell on many months after his divorce.

Divorce sucks.

Personally, regardless of the reasons why any of us divorce, I think it is always more difficult than many of us expect.  It represents many negative things in a person's life and all if it echoes failure, loss and emotional turmoil.

While there are life events that are worse than divorce, many of us never experience them or we experience them when we are much older, thus making divorce one of the hardest things to endure during our young adulthood or mid-life (two primary age demographics for couples who divorce). 

During divorce we process regrets, heartbreak, anger and blame.  At times we can hardly associate why our lives are in a constant tailspin, other times all we can do is cast a dark cloak of hate and spite over everyone or anything that reminds us of it.

Once a cheater, always a cheater?

After my friend talked for a while, I knew my running into him was an interesting coincidence in that his situation was quite similar to my own.

He took a risk.  He explained the many reasons why he chose to do what he did, and mostly accepted the blame for all of them. 

Just like him, I took a risk. Though the risk wasn't one I really wanted to take for many reasons - fear, haste and a little greed thrust me into my bad decision making. 

While it wasn't marital infidelity, it could be argued that I cheated myself and, in some ways, it's worse. 

If your spouse cannot forgive you after infidelity, there's always divorce whereas each spouse can individually heal and eventually move forward. 

If you cheat yourself through some self-betrayal then you must live with yourself and ongoing consequences forever or until you can forgive yourself and clean up the mess you've created.  See?  Much harder. 

There's only one door to personal acceptance and the key is forgiveness.

The only upside to the above scenarios is that such limited options promote forgiveness and healing.   This holds true whether we cheat ourselves, someone else or are cheated by another.

The common alternative is depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and other detrimental health conditions.  There's also guilt which easily manifests into a cesspool of self-loathing or worse, self-righteous insecurity leading to a failure to accept fault for our mistakes.  

The latter most certainly is a direct path for future betrayals and psychological strong-holds.

One loss leads to another. 

Unfortunately, righting your wrong is much more complicated than it seems.  In fact, it's very easy to find yourself in a spiraling decline of bad decision making while trying to fix the mistakes of the past. 

In other words, while you tell yourself you're cleaning up your mess, you're actually creating a bigger one.   Ehm. That may or may not have been where I went wrong - but the jury's still out.

At some point, you just have to accept your losses, whether they are as a result of your mistakes or other's.  Either way, you must learn from them and move forward. 

What good can come of it?

In many cases, wisdom to know better when taking future risks is the only good that comes from mistakes turned losses. 

You'll need to differentiate when a risk is just a risk and not for the sake of anyone's benefit, especially your own. 

Otherwise, your behavior may be a strong indicator of addiction.

Get to the heart of things.

Unless you take the time to find out where things went wrong, finding the lesson won't come easy and neither will the solution.  In most situations we all find our most detrimental mistakes rarely start at the recognition of a problem. 

"Until you peel your onion to a point that makes your eyes water, you haven't found the part that is actually edible."  

This means, problems often have layers and solving them is not complete until you get to their root cause (which just like your onion, may elicit some tears in the process). 

Don't stop at the issues on the surface, realize and address serious issues as secondary symptoms of a primary cause. 

In some cases, the obvious mistakes and issues on the surface are the only signals that a deeper problem exists and may otherwise be unrelated to the nature of the apparent problem(s).

Define loss.

The definition carries numerous meanings, but a significant curve in the road for many of us involves a lesson specific to "the process of losing even when we win". 

Sometimes, loss is something we internalize, something intangible and/or contradictory to the actual outcome. 

This means the lesson we can learn is that while we succeeded in attaining that which we set out to acquire or accomplish without a tangible loss, something else was damaged, overlooked or otherwise lost in the process. 

Identifying and learning from these types of losses may be even more significant when considering future risks.   

Is it a loss or a failure to win?

The significance of your loss and the emotional impact of the overall outcome varies according to multiple factors specific to the details of the risk, active participants and anyone affected by the process or outcome. 

Some risks can lead to a failure to acquire, participate and/or complete (failure to add/win) while others [lead] to the loss of something, someone and/or any other material or perceptible object of value (actual or perceived subtraction/loss). 

In some cases, the emotional impact as it applies to the individual's perception is the determining factor as to whether they lost or just didn't win.  

In cases where an individual is faced with ongoing failures to win, regardless of intermittent occurrences of significant gain, stress and anxiety may occur regardless if the overall outcome is positive.  

"The means don't justify the ends" 

Did the devil make us do it?

Maybe.  But, in my unprofessional, yet fairly knowledgeable experience of loss, I think that most of us take responsibility for the risks we take but find it difficult to account for exactly what the hell we were thinking regarding most of them.

Specifically, we may wonder why we did something that could never have provided a smidgeon of what it eventually took. 

Focus on tomorrow 

Find my own personal revelation of personal scrutiny following a bad decision below,

"While you may recall certain facts, or even some feelings - your state of mind at the time of past decisions isn't something you can specifically reproduce.  Furthermore, the passage of time, experiences and changes that occurred following your choices have a great deal of influence in your evaluation of your past decision-making process."

Don't bind yourself to past mistakes

While you should "get to the heart of things" with your problems, it's a pointless venture and solution blockade to overly consume yourself with trying to understand your choices and decisions that led to a poor outcome.  Instead, that energy could be spent on improving your outlook and being aware of just how much your emotions may play a part in future decisions that involve risk.  

Life is filled with mistakes, losses and poor decisions.  It's unproductive to poor over every detail of past decisions expecting to understand choices you and others made that led to disappointment. 

"This behavior is not pealing an onion, it's cutting it open, covering it up [with batter] and deep frying it until it's bloomin'.  And while a bloomin' onion may seem quite delicious in your festering state of mind, it's just not good for you."

Instead, deal with the problems that can be identified and solved; acknowledge you may never fully understand "what the hell you were thinking" when you made your poor choices but have the power to accept the outcome, regardless of fault.   

Acceptance coincides with expeditiously managing and coping with the aftermath.

This is a great path to letting go and moving forward.  If you can't, counseling or therapy may be a good idea. 

Otherwise, improve your odds for a successful outcome of future opportunities with some basic rules of engagement.

Fact or feeling

When it comes to making decisions of great importance, lean heavy on facts, sound reasoning and common sense rather than feelings.  This is a great way to demonstrate higher emotional intelligence. 

While your gut instinct may be helpful at times, it should not be the primary basis of your decision making.  The same obviously applies to physical desire (easier said than done).  

While all of this may seem obvious, let me further define this point. 

At every minute of the day, we feel; we experience emotions that lead to our present state of mind and/or mood.  So, while you may think you are analytically thinking over a decision, know that your emotions may play a more significant role than you think.  

When taking risks,

  • Recognize the volatility in any risk and know that even if you are fully focused on the facts needed to make decisions, emotions exist that may have a significant effect on the choices you make.  Seeking an objective opinion from someone unaffected by the risk may be wise.
  • Keep in mind how easily your perspective of such decisions changes over a course of a short time (an example of feelings you may not have realized you were experiencing when evaluating your risk). Give yourself ample time to consider issues of high-risk.
  • Weigh the overall potential gain against perceived future emotions in the event you fail to win, lose or win while losing something or someone as a result of taking your risk.
  • If taking a risk and/or attaining a positive result as a result of that specific risk seems it will be less beneficial than the overall outcome and your potential feelings following that outcome, you may want to reexamine reasons behind your decision and possibly disengage.
  • Finally, don't allow others to influence or pressure you into making decisions (especially without a reasonable period of time for consideration). Important decisions should not generally be made same day of their presentation.
  • Be cautious if the opportunity makes you uncomfortable, contradicts your typical safeguards and/or has the potential to damage relationships with those you love.