On the night before I was scheduled to head out of town on a four day trip, I was quietly reading in bed when I heard a strange gurgling sound coming from the bathroom. Further investigation revealed that the water in the toilet bowl was looking like a volcano about to erupt.

Since my plumbing skills are nonexistent, I decided to flush it and see if that solved the problem. Moments later, water was flooding the floor and I was bailing water and mopping up with a towel.

I shut the water intake valve off, but spent the next couple of hours fretting when I should have been snoozing.

What if the toilet erupted while I was away? Would I flood my downstairs neighbors in the condo below mine? Would I return to a home in shambles?

On Friday morning I headed to the airport still carrying trepidation along with my luggage. Later in the day, my daughter sent me an e-mail assuring me all was well (or, more literally, all was dry). I relaxed a bit.

My attention shifted to teaching the liveliest seminars I could to three groups of students in Sacramento. When I shared my mini-disaster, I got all sorts of advice on dealing with my plumbing problem.

Early on Sunday morning, I headed to Las Vegas to meet up with the folks from International Living. They were running a Fast-Track Your Retirement Overseas Conference  where 600 people were investigating what it would take to live abroad.

Since I have no plans to retire either here or abroad, I wasn’t there as a participant. I had come at the invitation of International Living publisher Jackie Flynn to discuss a product they’ll be launching in the new year.

On Sunday evening, I shared dinner and ideas with Jackie and her writing team. I went back to my room feeling quite excited about their new project.

Monday morning I woke up and had two e-mail messages that took me by surprise. The first was from Southwest Airlines alerting me to a delay in my late afternoon flight back to California.

The second was from my long time online merchant provider announcing that they were closing down shop at the end of the year.

I shared my bad news with my Facebook friends and promptly began receiving messages of encouragement. Once again, the dark cloud lifted quickly.

The truth was that neither the bad news nor my overflowing toilet is what I’ll remember from this journey.

In fact, there were so many delightful moments in these four days that when I recall the trip, the first things that come to mind will be the fun I had spending time with my friend Judy Miranda in Sacramento.

I’ll also think about meeting Facebook friend Lisa Montanaro for the first time and the engaging participants that showed up for my seminars.

And I don’t think I’ll ever forget the view from my room at Red Rocks Resort with the full moon shining down over the lights of Las Vegas.

Or the joyful time I had brainstorming with the International Living team.

After our meeting Monday morning, I headed to the airport although my delayed flight was hours away. I went to the Southwest ticket counter, asked if I could be put on an earlier flight and a few minutes later was heading home.

“Is there a charge?” I asked the ticket agent.

“Not from me,” she replied (just in case I needed another reason to love that airline).

This little outing reminded me, once again, that building a business isn’t about living in a total and continuous state of bliss. Anyone expecting such a thing won’t be in business very long.

On the other hand, on those days when you wonder if all the annoyances, distractions and disappointments are worth it, remind yourself of  this observation from Paulo Coehlo:

Too often we decide to follow a path that is not really our own, one that others have set for us. We forget that whichever way we go the price is always the same: in both cases we will pass through difficult and happy moments.

But when we are living our dreams, the difficulties we encounter make sense.

On May 24, 2002, I happened to see a Breaking News story on CNN about an apartment building in Los Angeles that had suffered an explosion. The immediate cause was unknown, but when they reported the address, I panicked.

This was the building where my daughter Jennie, her partner Hector and their pug Emmit lived. I called Jennie’s phones, but got no answer on either.

The next forty-five minutes were the longest of my life. Finally the call came saying they were fine.

They had stepped out to run an errand just before the explosion occurred.  Even though they didn’t normally take Emmit with them, that day they decided he needed an outing.

The next few weeks were chaotic since the building was uninhabitable. Jennie and Hector had to quickly find a new apartment, although most of their possessions were impounded in the old place. It was months before things settled down.

By May 24, 2003, Jennie and Hector were the new owners of a gorgeous house that came with a magnificent backyard garden. As the three of us sat on the patio, we began talking about the dramatic events of a year earlier.

“That was the best day of my life,” said Hector, “Although I didn’t know it at the time.”  None of us knew, of course, that the horrible events of that day would mysteriously lead to this wonderful new home.

Almost everyone has a story about a loss or disappointment that turned out to be a blessing. The tricky part, for most of us, is to recognize that when our plans go awry, there may be greater forces at work.

Although it can be challenging, it’s important to keep looking for the opportunities that may be hidden behind a disappointment—or even a disaster.

That can be easier to do if we remember that everything doesn’t have to go right in order to ultimately succeed. If a plan unfolds without a hitch it might be wise to be suspicious. After all, dreams are here to teach us how to be more, not just to have more.

Stewart Emery  tells a story about flying in the cockpit of a plane going to Hawaii and learning that every flight is a series of corrections. He says, “If we could see that we can get a 747 to Hawaii, having been in error 90 percent of the time, we might be a little less uptight about being in error ourselves…Somehow people have the notion that they are going to get away from failure, that they are going to succeed enough never to fail again. That option is simply not available; it is like trying to eat once and for all.”

Before you encounter another delay or disappointment, decide to challenge yourself to find opportunities that are hidden, along with those which are obvious.

While you’re at it, give yourself permission to be in error much of the time. Know that ultimate success is a process of accumulation and that you’ll accumulate both victories and defeats along the way.

Or just memorize these words from Paulo Coehlo: “Too often we decide to follow a path that is not really our own, one that others have set for us. We forget that whichever way we go the price is always the same: in both cases we will pass through both difficult and happy moments.

“But when we are living our dreams, the difficulties that we encounter make sense.”

While Bill Bryson was toiling away at a London newspaper, he was dreaming about being a freelance writer. With a wife and family to support, this seemed a risky and selfish dream. So he continued to drag himself to a job that was growing more loathsome.

One day he got a call at work from his wife Cynthia. “I’ve just put the house on the market,” she announced. Her husband was livid, but she remained firm. “You’ve been talking about quitting your job and it’s time you did that.” 

The London house was sold and the Bryson clan moved north to rural Yorkshire for a new life. Bryson’s modest goal was to earn a decent living by writing articles and books. He produced several books on the English language, which had modest sales, but it was his humorous travel tales that earned him a following and massive popularity. He’s also earned numerous awards, including  an honorary OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for his contribution to literature.

It makes me shudder to think that he could still be an obscure copy editor instead of making his devoted fans, of which I am one, laugh out loud.

Thinking about Bryson’s story makes me want to jump up on my chair and holler, “Hooray for the Cynthia Brysons of the world!” People like her are in short supply. On the other hand, the world is full of people like her husband, people who dream of doing one thing while doing another. 

Self-doubt is a nasty scoundrel that kills armies of dreams and thwarts ambition of all sorts. When we allow self-doubt to keep us from going after our dreams, we dupe ourselves into thinking that we’re behaving prudently. Unless we understand the folly of this position, it’s impossible to take action.

In the end, self-doubt is just that: doubt that one allows to fester in oneself. You don’t need a Cynthia Bryson to cure it, but you do need determination to get past it.

One of my favorite reminders comes from Paulo Coehlo who wrote, “Too often we decide to follow a path that is not really our own, one that others have set for us. We forget that whichever way we go, the price is the same: in both cases, we will pass through both difficult and happy moments. But when we are living our dream, the difficulties we encounter make sense.”