Would that the above image were, or even could be true! The reality is however that we all suffer from days or a string of days when things just don’t seem to go our way. The kids don’t seem to be doing what they should, or we fail an exam that we think we are super-prepared for, or work is a place where no one sees your way or chooses to cooperate in any way, or the air conditioner fails in the middle of a strong summer. In any of those cases it is easy to get down and think the world aligns against us.
Leadership Zen doesn’t purport to try to get you to forget those things. That would be seriously unrealistic and detrimental to our ability to weather the inevitable storms when they come our way. Instead, what I’d like to discuss today is how to keep bad days in perspective so that they don’t beat you in the long haul.
Make no mistake – human beings have a tendency to dwell when negative things happen to them. For most it comes from the simple asking of “Why me?” when there is no legitimate answer to that question. For some it can be a debilitating sense of foreboding that assumes somehow that the universe has planned out negativity in our lives, when the truth is that 90% of everything that happens just happens. Life is not pre-ordained – yours or mine or anyone’s – and it is up to better leaders not only to fight through these feelings, but also to set an example for others who suffer setbacks in their lives.
Here are some tips for managing through negativity that might help you do both.
- Don’t Focus on the Why: There usually isn’t a reason why bad things happen to us. Kids are kids, and they can cause as much stress as they can cause joy in our day to day lives. We all screw up tests, and the diverse personalities and talent levels at work mean there always exists the power for conflict. OK that air conditioner? Maybe we could have changed the filter or had that scheduled maintenance done on time, but there is no cosmic force at work trying to make your life more difficult. If you use the energy you spend on trying to figure out why, you might just solve the problem at hand and move on from the dilemma.
- Dont Compare Your Life to Anyone’s Other Than Your Own: This is a common trap when people start feeling sorry for what is likely a temporary condition in their lives. These individual moments can have a tendency to become pattern when we focus on how our lives compare to others’ around us, when they are making the money we think we should make or finding the relationships we can’t seem to figure out. The reality is you can’t compare one person’s bad day to your own, or to any one else’s. Focus on the things that are making you feel less fulfilled – but focus on the solutions not the problems.
- Involve Others: This one can be dicey but while I feel it is important to use the social networks in your life for support, I also think it important that you not become a burden to them by focusing on the bad. You have family, friends, and others who are there because they find something inherently worthy and meaningful in the relationships you have created. Most people want to help. But if you ignore tips #1 and #2 and spend more time mired in your own anxiety about something that didn’t go right today, you go beyond leveraging those relationships and into being a burden. Very few people I have met like to sit in a room and commiserate about all that is wrong in the world. Don’t be one of them.
- Remember That Most of us Make Good Decisions in the Present: People generally do well when making a decision about now. Where we get lost is worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. You can’t re-take that test, and you can’t make that HVAC not go down yesterday. But what you can do is open that book and make sure you are ready for that next exam, or talk to your professor about getting some extra help. And you can get that air conditioner fixed and schedule some preventive maintenance on it to make sure you extend the life of the equipment. That is being proactive versus being a victim.
Bottom line there is no cloud that only follows you around this world. We all have bad days; they are unavoidable. But having them isn’t a condition of who you are. How you lead through them most assuredly is. Stay grounded in a firm today and take ownership of your own trajectory. It might not be tomorrow, but eventually you will see a longer string of good days ahead. Not a bad lesson to share with others either.