Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk, Be Thankful For What You Have

Spilled milk

In the 1990 movie, Mr. Destiny, Larry Burrows (played by James Belushi) blames all of his life’s misery on the fact that he struck out during a crucial moment of his state high school baseball championship game 20 years earlier.  Every day, Larry wishes he had done differently and hit that baseball.

Fresh from being fired from his job, he drives home through a rough part of the city when his beater car stalls out near a bar. He then hops inside to call a tow truck and tells a mysterious bartender named Mike (Michael Kaine) his troubles. He reviews his day with Mike, who recognizes him as the boy who lost the state championships. An embarrassed Larry tells Mike that he regrets missing out on the opportunity and wishes he made that winning home run as a teenager. Mike then fixes him a drink called “Spilled Milk.”

Larry leaves the bar, walks home to discover that he no longer lives in the small unfinished house that he shared with his supportive wife, Ellen (Linda Hamilton). Mike re-appears as a taxi driver and drives him to his new palatial mansion in the exclusive part of the city, explaining that he did, in fact, hit the last pitch and won the championship.

It turns out that bartender Mike is Mr. Destiny. He’s a “guardian angel” who can grant people their life desires, and the drink that Larry took magically rewrote his past. Hitting that baseball has spun his life off into an entirely new direction.

A highly skeptical Mike then walks into his mansion as his butler welcomes him. He’s delightfully shocked to get hugs and kisses from his “new” trophy wife and cute children (something he could not have with Ellen). He soon discovers that he’s now the president of his company and that he owns a collection of priceless luxury automobiles in his garage. That’s Larry’s new glamorous life as a filthy rich and successful businessman.

Do you often wonder what your life would have been if it spun the other direction?

You are not alone. Pretty much every one of us has stories of our failures. It may be the test that you flunked, the business opportunity that you overlooked, the failed relationship, or the embarrassing email that you sent to work that got you fired.

But what if those failures suddenly become successes? What if you were able to turn back the time and made the other choice? Have you ever thought about what your life would have become?

If you think that you’d automatically become the highly successful person you’ve always aspired for, you’re absolutely mistaken.

There’s no guarantee that you will ultimately succeed. Like what Mike said in the movie, one’s destiny is a very complicated thing. Every choice, decision, or event in our life affects everything else that follows it. There is always an element of luck or if you’re religious, divine intervention.

In some instances, failures can even save your life.

When I was younger, it was my dream to work on Wall Street. It wasn’t just about the money. If you work on Wall Street, you have made it in the financial world. At least, that’s what I was led to believe.

So, in the spring of 2001, I drove 500 miles from my place in North Carolina to a park and ride in New Jersey. I then took a bus to Manhattan to interview in person for a financial services company. Everything went well initially as I passed the written test and an interview with a mid-level manager. I thought I was inching closer to being hired. But the interview with the V.P. was a total disaster as he asked me a series of obscure questions that I don’t have a clue about. I was sent home emptyhanded.

I went back to the parking lot and discovered that someone forced his way into my car with a screwdriver and my leather jacket was missing in the passenger seat. Not only did I not get an offer, my jacket got stolen, and I probably have to spend a couple of hundred bucks to fix my car door.

A couple of hours later, as I was driving along I-95 South, just when I was about to recover from my emotional trauma, I suddenly got reminded of my $2,000 Toshiba laptop in the trunk. I quickly made a stop at the nearest rest area. And boy, it was no longer there. All my personal info probably got stolen along with it. The string of bad luck was too much– I cried inside my car.

What turned out to be a blessing in disguise is the fact that the interview was held on the upper floors of the World Trade Center. I don’t remember which building it was, but it was one of the two that fell that fateful September.

Chances are, I would have been dead had I gotten an offer.

Don’t dwell on the past, focus on the present.

It’s really okay to cry when things go wrong, whether you caused it or not. But we should avoid adding a story to our failures: “I’m not good enough,” “I’m a total failure,” or “my father says so”. Rather than dwelling on the past, we should learn from our mistakes, make the necessary adjustments, take care of our business, and move on.

While it’s true that there are no guarantees in life, there are many things that we can do to improve our chances of success. Keeping your eye on the ball and focusing on the present are examples of these.

If you think about it, the process that we go through when we fail, regardless of how trivial or complex, at the very core, is essentially the same. For instance, when you literally spill your milk, what do you do?

Here are the 4 steps that we all go through.

1. Focus on what you are trying to do

Analyze what went wrong, but do not over analyze. You’ll figure that had you were not texting someone or reading that Facebook post while pouring, you would not have spilled that drink.

In life, do not underestimate the power of focus. You should learn how to walk before you can run. Maybe you should pay off that huge credit card debt before investing in the stock market. If you’re doing nine or ten things at the same time, nothing will happen. But if you focus on what you are trying to achieve, you’ll get it done.

2. Immediately clean up your mess

You should immediately clean up your mess. If you waited, the milk would have fallen on the edge of the table and landed on the carpet, creating a bigger mess.

Don’t be that person that I know who procrastinated on her taxes. Her accountant told me that she hadn’t filed income taxes for the past three years! Not only will you get hefty fines from the IRS— you might end up in jail. Not to mention, you’ll be subjected to gossip.

3. Pour another glass

Instead of crying and complaining about the spilled milk, you should simply pour another glass.

Of course, pouring milk is easy. What if the task is extremely challenging? The fact is most of our successes are born out of our failures.  We learn from our mistakes. We become stronger because of our sufferings. It was said that Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. He was quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” The key to his success is that he had taken massive action.

4. Be fulfilled

After cleaning your mess, you should pour another glass, finish and enjoy the rest of your meal. You should never let one spilled milk ruin your day.

Larry Burrows new life seems perfect– he has everything. He’s well-liked and respected, but deep inside something is missing. He misses his relationship with his best friend and wife Ellen from his previous life. Soon enough he finds himself wishing to be put back into his old life.

You can have all the money in the world, but you’re still a failure if you’re not fulfilled. Success without fulfillment is worthless. And since everyone is unique, each one of us should find that something that fulfills us.

One such thing is being grateful for what you already have. Be grateful for that glass of milk.

I don’t ever look back, unless it’s to find what lessons I can learn from past mistakes. Getting all tripped up over the past does me nothing but heartache. It’s better to just let go of some things.

That’s probably the same attitude that helped you fully recover from that bad sports injury. I’ve been to your site, very interesting content.

I’ve just read this and thought that living your life full of regrets for what you should’ve could’ve would’ve is probably very common.
Maybe I’m just a little bit pragmatic – but there’s no point in wanting to be two inches taller or have had richer parents or scored the winning point in a high school game. Make the best of what you have and do your best no matter what the situation.
The only regrets that I really have are on my own behaviour and how if I had have known then what I knew then I would do things differently. But it’s very hard to learn lessons without making mistakes first.


You’re welcome. My greatest regret is not investing in my 20s. But like you said, it’s not where you’re coming from– it’s where you’re going to that matters.

You’re the second person I know who could have been in the WTC during 9/11. The other person was on vacation leave in the Philippines when it happened.

Funny how your “failure” led to you still being alive today and that other person’s vacation saved her, the irony there being she was always hesitant to go on vacation, thinking that it wouldn’t be good for her career.


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