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You've Been Upgraded: A Simple Story That Helped Me Build Resilience How a simple philosophy helped me build resilience by not stressing about what is not in my control and never allowing rejection to divert me from my passion.

By Jani Ahonala Edited by Chelsea Brown

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

"You've been upgraded" are the words everyone wants to hear; that special feeling that comes along with an unexpected moment of kismet, like finding a forgotten 20 dollar bill in your pocket or hitting every green light when you're running late. For me, those words came at a moment of pure exhaustion — mentally, emotionally and financially — as I grappled with the future of my company while waiting to board an 11-hour flight home from Los Angeles to Helsinki. What I didn't know then was how the occurrences of this flight would change me forever.

The only thing better than a seat upgrade is having the entire row to yourself. And that's exactly what was happening as I settled in for a blissful 11 hours all to myself to unwind, decompress, and strategize. "This is so reasonable. This is so fair," I relished. But that feeling didn't last long. As the plane readied for take-off, a man sat down in the seat next to mine.

This is where I need to tell you something about us Finns. We are an authentic, devoted, and community-minded sort of people, willing to give you the shirt off our back. But we do not make chit chat, small talk or idle conversation with strangers in any situation at all, ever. Yet against all odds, fueled by a lot of wine and entrepreneurial camaraderie somewhere above middle America, one Finn began to talk to another Finn.

Related: 7 Keys to Developing Resilience

A philosophy of two fingers

I told him about my visit, that there had been no funding, and that I was still digesting the well-intentioned, but ultimately misguided feedback I'd received from VCs. He told me about his work in the media business. He had been in Los Angeles for a professional dinner, the swanky, bohemian West Coast sort, where he had met a local who referred to himself only as "the guru." This guru had shared advice with my seatmate which he was now about to share with me. I call it "a philosophy of two fingers" and it goes like this:

Happiness is the distance between your thumb and forefinger. Your thumb represents a moment when something unfortunate happens to you (like when someone sits down in an airline seat you hoped would remain empty). And the forefinger represents the moment you can accept that event and move on (when you decide to share a glass of wine with that seatmate).

The shorter the distance between your thumb and your forefinger — between disappointment and acceptance or between an unfortunate event and making the best of it — the happier and more successful your life can be. Sounds simple, right? It is. But it isn't easy.

Related: 10 Successful Leaders Share How They Developed The Resilience to Push Through the Most Challenging Times

It's all in the mind

According to the guru, it's all in the mind. It's a conscious decision one makes every day to not get stuck in the rut of a bad event — or of an unsuccessful fundraising tour. And it was just simple enough to cause a major shift in my own narrative at a time when I really needed it.

My seatmate told me he was sure I did my very best in all those meetings. And helped me by talking me through the real-life example I was living: the meetings I'd had were with people who did not "get" my idea. They did not understand the market or the product I was building. So, he challenged me, "Why would you want to work with them?" Those VCs would not have been a good fit for my company.

When life disappoints us, it's difficult to see the event in a larger context. In the moment, it can feel like an ending, but those moments are actually beginnings. My advice is to shorten the distance between your thumb and your forefinger. Shorten the distance between disappointment and acceptance. Don't force or hold on to situations that aren't working. Be brave enough to walk away and know that the next right thing will come. This advice is not for the cynical. Believing that life can and will work out for you is a choice. You get to choose.

I never met the guru, and I never exchanged names with my Finnish seatmate, but this philosophy of the distance "between two fingers" has become one of my pillars of resilience. It has taught me to keep my focus on the future and to move quickly through my disappointments. I no longer stress about what is not in my control and I never allow rejection to divert me from my passion. It worked for me — and it can work for you, too.

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Jani Ahonala


Jani Ahonala is a serial entrepreneur who believes in our collective ability to improve healthcare through innovation and equal access. As a writer, he explores the intersection of entrepreneurship and personal growth — wisdom he wishes someone would have shared with him when he was starting out.

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