“When one door closes, fortune will usually open another.”

Usually attributed to Alexander Graham Bell, that quote was actually said by Fernando de Rojas, famed author of La Celestina around the time of the Spanish Renaissance, c. 1500 ish (I found it in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations).

It represents one of the most potentially impactful but misunderstood truths about life and fortune. As with most sayings, there’s a missing nuance you’ve got to understand to take advantage of its enormous potential, which, in this case, is to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Let me explain.

The physical world always tends toward chaos (per the Second Law of Thermodynamics), and life has a funny way of reminding you that you’re not in control. Just when things couldn’t be better, it turns your world upside down. You’ll see that theme repeat throughout your life. But the key is how you respond to defeat.

As jazz great Miles Davis once said, “When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that makes it good or bad.”

Once I’m done reeling from the shock and disappointment of great loss, I always end up feeling like I’ve been released from a cage – gilded as it may have been – and freed to take on even bigger opportunities. And that’s exactly what ends up happening every time.

Every important event in my life – from meeting my wife to becoming a senior executive and then a columnist and author – directly followed a great loss. When you feel you’re at the bottom and have nothing to lose, that’s when you’re freed from the shackles of day-to-day inertia and are ready to roll the dice on bigger and better things.

You see, we are creatures of habit and comfort. When things are going well, we inevitably settle into routine. But by definition, when everything’s static, there are no inflection points. So when $#!* happens, you have to use it. That’s when you say, OK, time to break out of the old comfort zone and shoot for the moon.

If you have that mindset – if you say “screw it” and set your mind to seizing the moment, pulling out all the stops and making things happen – you will always move up. But it’s all about believing in yourself – that you are destined for more than whatever you were doing before – and taking action.

That’s the nuance missing from the quote. Those doors don’t open by themselves. And it’s certainly not fortune that opens them. It’s you.