Ever wonder about why bad things happen to you? You’re pretty sure you didn’t do anything to precipitate the event but still you’re in this situation that seems untenable. People are hard against you. You feel no matter how good your ideas are they are not just shot down, they are appropriated by others as their own. Rumors. Lies. Isolation. Plots to ruin you.
After a while it is easy to join the chorus of naysayers. You begin to think, “They’re right. I’m not all that. I don’t deserve better.” Maybe a pity party sets in. Then, you’re shut down.
You’ve shut yourself down.
Let me tell you something. You aren’t special. Yep. Know why? Because this happens to every single one of us.
These times will always be with us. The negative people will never change. They will never see you in any different light. Events that slow you down will continue to occur. Remember that flat tire that Friday night in the pouring rain just before your date with that cute chick? Or, the credit card that was stolen? You say they got your identity, too? What about the heater that went out on the coldest day of the year? That job loss or passed over for promotion? The failed relationship. And all those opportunities you weren’t ready for.
Welcome to the human condition.
But, there’s a difference between those who plow through these circumstances and come out smelling like a rose on the other side and those who get buried in them.
Want to know what it is?
Focus, the ability to face failure, and unfailing optimism.
These mindsets or attitudes toward the challenges you face are critical to whether or not you just make it through or you triumph. Let’s take a look at these three.
Take a look at the sports greats that have made it into our popular conscience by their amazing abilities to achieve as they do. Like him or not, consider Tom Brady. Jim Gray, author of Talking to GOATS: The moments you remember and the stories you never heard, says that Brady has literally focused on two things: being the best athlete in his sport and being the best husband, father, and son he can be. That’s it. If it isn’t about football or his family, it simply doesn’t get his attention. Considering he’s just won his 6th Super Bowl at 43, we should sit up a bit a pay attention to that.
I teach Humanities at a high school for adults who want their high school diplomas. I hear constantly about how hard it is to get their work done. I usually try to engage in some kind of problem-solving conversation with them. Unfailingly, older adults tell me that life gets in the way of getting their work done: Kids with no boundaries and not enough to do. Employers who call at the last minute and request another shift. Cars and appliances that break down at inconvenient times (when is it ever convenient?) Fatigue. Nonstop. I get it: Brady has staff. Most of us don’t, so it’s extra important that we fight to maintain boundaries and plan to keep the little stuff little.
The younger generation invariably tells me that friends with no boundaries, cell phones and games come before their schoolwork. And they defend their right to be interrupted by these things!
I do an imagery exercise with some. Imagine what your life looks like with the job of your dreams and the ability to meet responsibilities. You are working 40 hours a week, taking care of your health (exercising and cooking fresh food at home) and taking care of those tasks like maintenance on the house, paying bills, and walking the dog. Now, tell me where you have time for endless video games, constant scrolling on social media, and people in your life with no boundaries.
Most who do this exercise with me understand that there isn’t time for these time and soul sucks. Then I ask them why they aren’t living life NOW like the one they want to have?
There. I said it. It’s your choice where you put your attention.
In the 80’s, Steven Covey made a powerful statement when he showed his audience what happens when you do all your little things first and then try to do your most important, time consuming projects afterward. It is a visual that you will never forget. On a table, he had two large containers. In one, he poured in sand representing the little things that take up most of our day, then medium-sized rocks, but when he tried to add the big rocks last, they wouldn’t fit. In the second container, he put the big rocks first, then the smaller rocks and finally, he poured the sand which filled in between all the larger rocks. All of this fit neatly in the container. A powerful metaphor for ensuring that the important things you need to focus on are done first in your day.
What are your big rocks? Why aren’t they getting your attention first in your day?
“A person who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein.
Seriously! It’s just that simple. If you don’t try, you won’t fail, but you won’t succeed either. Have you ever wondered why we are so risk-averse? Well, yes! Failing is embarrassing, but rarely fatal. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there may have been (or are now) people in your life who were quick to knock you down when something didn’t go right or simply left you with the feeling that you shouldn’t bother trying anything or convinced you that you won’t amount to anything. Just as problematic, there may not have been the cheerleaders you needed just at the right time to encourage you. Not all of us are raised in a Brady Bunch-like home. That leaves it up to us to develop the grit necessary to forge courageously in the face of the fear of failure.
Frankly, most of the trepidation we experience about doing something we might fail at is wasted emotion. Most of the time. All those other times, there is a handy lesson available for us to learn.
Do you seriously believe that some people are so good at what they do that they never fail? I think you might want to follow Tiger Woods for that line of thinking. I’m betting he’d tell you differently. In spite of his very public failures, he kept pushing forward. He is the original comeback king! After several back surgeries and a not-so-flattering personal scandal or two, 2019 was his year winning his fifth PGA Master’s title scoring 13 under par. And, he was 43 years old at the time of his last Master’s, but hey, don’t read anything into either of those facts. Yes, I imagine Tiger has staff, too.
Still, you don’t get to use that as your excuse. Get up and keep trying. Keep pushing forward. This is the time to ask yourself: What is the worse thing that is going to happen?
This is probably the point I should discuss the importance of one other attitude or mindset that is critical: Unfailing Optimism
No, I don’t mean that you should become a Pollyanna. And, frankly, you’d likely find a few haters, if you did. But, an unfailing sense of hope that you CAN do this is absolutely necessary. Remember the imagery exercise I mentioned earlier? You really must see the end point to get to the end point. You really need to believe that it can happen, that you deserve it, and that you have the ability to get “there”. Wherever “there” is for you.
I ask my students to write about how people maintain hope when things are tough. We discuss the tools we have within ourselves to push against the seemingly impossible. Character traits such as never letting an opportunity pass by, having empathy for those around us, being responsible and accountable, having initiative are all traits that can be developed. But also one’s sense of faith in a higher power has immeasurable benefits. There are countless studies in the power of faith as well as positive thinking that can push us forward.
However, there are also people and events that spur us on. I call these catalysts. By definition in the field of chemistry, a catalyst is something that produces a change in another chemical without itself being consumed or changed. In everyday situations, a mentor can be a catalyst because they are capable of producing change in another. I asked my students to think of catalysts in their lives that have helped propel them forward in a positive way. I’ve never known a true mentor to be less than an enthusiastic cheerleader for helping another see their potential and rise to meet it. They do this because of the belief in the ability of the other person to get “there”. They are inveterate positive thinkers and vision-makers.
There are also events in your life that become catalysts for change as well. Growing up with an extreme situation may be enough to convince you not to live like that. A death of a loved one, catastrophes like a home burning to the ground, abuse or violence against you – are all events that can profoundly change you. For some, these kinds of catalyst can tow you under, but not always. Sometimes they are the very push you need to move forward.
I’m convinced every day that God put my husband in my life as a catalyst to create change in my life that I might not otherwise would have had the wherewithal to create on my own. As a ACOA, I know my weaknesses, and I believe that God put people – catalysts – in my life to define what my life should – and should not – look like. Coupled with that handsome cheerleader in my life, I developed less fear in the face of failure, more focus on what is important, and all that allowed the little bit of the Pollyanna in me – there, I said it – emerge.
Do you remember the character Edith Ann played by Lilly Tomlin on Laugh-in in the 70’s? She used to tell a story from a 5-year old’s perspective and end with “And, that’s the truthhhhhhh!” Turning that “th” into a big raspberry sound.
Yes, Edith, you are right. It is the truth.