Many people are reluctant to think about setbacks or failures. It isn’t emotionally easy to revisit low moments.

But there’s a way of turning vice to virtue, a way of taking weaknesses and actually turning them to strengths.

To begin with, I’d like to show you an analogy I created which encapsulates the concept of vice to virtue and will help you absorb it.

The Candle Analogy

Imagine beneath all of us is a burning candle. This candle’s flame is unending, forever lit and emitting energy.

This candle is far enough beneath us that most of us don’t even feel its heat. We go about our days as normal with the odd stress popping up here and there but manageable for the most part. There seems to be no reason to change the status quo.

However, there are some people who are close to the flame. Close enough that they get burned. They experience a failure, low, loss, vice like no other. The burn is what you’d expect from any source of open fire—searing heat accompanied by rapid intense pain. But no one dies (rarely does a single candle kill), they’re wounded but survive.

Two distinct effects happen to those who’ve been burned.

One: the scorched never bounce back. They recuperate physically but have been incinerated psychologically and emotionally. Never before have they experienced such trauma and they spend the rest of their lives licking their wounds.

Or two: the power and intensity of the flame ignite a change. The wounded are catalysed into action like never before, springing up from the pit of despair and creating a transformation in their lives that remains.

In both cases, the candle’s flame is excruciating for a while, leaving an impression seared deep in.

But it’s what you do with the pain and the impression that counts.

You can either choose to be scarred for life by them. Or you can use them as fuel to project you to new heights.

The Candle Analogy demonstrates the paradox of the status quo. If you hover around the normality of the middle or even slightly below the middle in life, you may never experience a life changing event that leaves such an impression on you, it transforms you for good. If on the other hand you reach such a low point in your life, provided you survive, you’ll learn and progress, never wanting to get burned in the same way ever again.

One of the great ironies of life is that most people could do with getting burned. No this isn’t a sadistic wish. It’s simply the case that behind a lot of success stories is plenty of failure. We often need impactful events to provide lasting motivation. Most successful people have sunk low enough to touch the candle’s flame at some point in their lives and it spurred them on to achieve what they have.

People who walk around in a state of semi-malaise are at the biggest risk. They’re dissatisfied with life but not so much they feel an impending heat underneath. They risk wallowing in an existential haze and counterintuitively could do with reaching the flame to blast them out of it.

The candle never burns out until we’re gone from the world. The risk of touching the flame multiple times remains possible; a few are unfortunate enough to get burned more than once. But in most cases the first burn leaves an unforgettable mark, one that transforms the vice into a virtue.

You can’t get any lower than the wick of the candle, that’s the point. When you come out scathed but alive, as long as you choose to not give in, choose to reflect and learn, choose to advance towards better, you will. The only way from there is up.

Vice To Virtue Candle

The journey of vice to virtue

As the years go by, I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon about human nature in people who’ve overcome adversity.

They’ve managed to make a former handicap a net positive in their lives. They’ve turned a minus into a plus. They’ve transformed something that was a vice to virtue.

Human beings are complex creatures but when it comes to our core motivational drivers, we’re pretty simple: we move towards what we cherish and stay away from what we hate.

This is a concept that resonates in my own life. Due to my mixed background, upbringing in a diverse city, and interest in travel and other cultures, it’s no surprise that I oriented towards digital nomadism when the opportunity came about.

But what you don’t know are the limitations I experienced growing up that intensified my value system towards this.

Despite my fascination with countries and cultures as a child, I barely got to experience any particular one in person since my family rarely travelled. I come from a humble background where it wasn’t easy to travel for holidays growing up. I was pretty much the only one in my school classes that never went on holiday abroad every year. In fact I’d only ever ridden a plane once before the age of 20. While it was never my parents’ fault and I don’t blame them at all, rather than adventures overseas, holidays were spent as domestic time off and making it outside of the city once in a while.

You can imagine what is was like for me attending a school mainly made up of middle-class teens. Hearing the stories of them swanning around on some tropical beach in the summer doing some new watersport I’d never heard of. Or even of their weekend trip to Belgium they’d toss out casually on a Monday morning. Some classmates would have multiple trips abroad with their families in one school term.

Meanwhile my gaps between going abroad spanned several years not months. It was no surprise as a teenager that I felt some level of jealously and inadequacy when I listened to what they’d been up to whilst trying to hide accounts of my own meagre holidays in comparison.

This constant feeling of lack became a burn seared in deep. By the time I became an adult, I took every opportunity I got to travel and spend as much time abroad as I could.

Granted, not being able to travel when younger isn’t the biggest adversity in the world (although it certainly feels like one when literally everyone around you, middle-class or working-class is) but significant lacks or drawbacks in your life can burn you enough that you transform who you are for the rest of your future.

The vice to virtue situation was the result of a two-pronged driver: the core desire towards what I value coupled with the pain of deficiency. The sticks are just as potent as the carrots, if not more so.

When you experience the pain of a vice, it’s hard to see what good can come of it at the time.

But behind our biggest vices are some of the greatest lessons we can ever learn. Our vices help shape our value system through teaching us what situations we despise in life so that we move beyond them and never have us or the people we care about go back to them. We get burned by their flames and strive to never return close to the embers.

It’s a via negativa approach—sometimes you figure out who you are in life by knowing what you don’t like and don’t want to become.

The reality is on a deeper level, maybe my cosmopolitan-mindedness and creation of this blog wouldn’t have come about had such a vice not existed in the first place.

I’ve both met and read accounts of many people whose story and value system are shaped by a vice to virtue situation.

A woman who became part of the FIRE movement because she never felt like she or her family had financial stability when young.

The founder of ‘Charisma on Command’ who was shy and introverted growing up but is now a leading figure in teaching people social skills.

People from ethnic backgrounds who feel marginalised in the society they live in that it becomes their life’s vocation to fight for social change.

The list goes on.

Reflect on your own life. Is there an adversity that you experienced or continue to experience that plays a part in molding you into the person you are? Do you have core values that have been reinforced by a lack, weakness, drawback you had when you were younger? Are you scared of reliving any moments of failure again?

Chances are the answer is yes. Most people have been burned at some point in their lives or will be.

But as the vice to virtue journey proves, as long as we emerge from the flames still breathing, we can use it as power to take up a unique position in the world.

We can use it to better our lot and the lot of our families.

We can use it to strive for positive social and cultural change.

We can use it to own our identities and understand who we really are with greater clarity.

Don’t downplay or suppress a negative experience into the recesses of your mind because you think it’s a sign of failure.

Understand that it can make you better than you imagined.

Understand that your vice can become a virtue.

Vice To Virtue Journey


Pushing to overcome adversity is a key part behind any successful life.

Yet few of us understand how our setbacks and failures can actually turn into strengths.

Throughout our lives (but often growing up), we experience the handicap of a personal vice or two, something that eats away at our wellbeing and seems to hold us back from higher attainment.

What we don’t realise is how integral these experiences are in molding us into more complete individuals. Provided we tough out a setback and survive the burn, we transform our situation. We make it vice to virtue.

We think that our biggest motivators are the carrots—that which pulls us in through positive desire. But we neglect how big an influence the sticks of the vices we experience also have on our motives.

What we think and value are often determined by the large watershed moments of our upbringing and beyond. The impact of the ecstasy of the stratosphere (virtues) plus the devastation of the burning lows (vices) far outweigh the benign stable moments.

Using this two-pronged driver is a way of leaving your mark on the world. Your lows form a unique identity and self-expression that no one else can replicate and entrench a motivation so deep, you’ll persist no matter what.

Transform your vice to virtue and leave the world in a better place than you found it.