Life isn’t always going to go our way no matter how much work we put in, or how bad we want a specific outcome.
Sometimes we will get cut from the team or demoted to second string. We will be passed over for the big promotion. We won’t always get to work on the most interesting things. We won’t consistently hit home runs (or even get on base). At times, we will just screw up and make a mistake.
It’s easy to sulk and feel sorry for ourselves. It’s easy to get angry and give less than you know you can give. However, as we already know, we don’t settle for the easy road. So today I challenge you (and especially me) to look at the low points in our lives, and learn from them!
The reality is that when things are great – when we are winning, receiving the accolades, moving forward, getting promoted, etc. – we aren’t learning AS MUCH as when the proverbial shit hits the fan. The low points in our lives give us the opportunity to learn, grow, and become a better version of ourselves – if we choose to listen and learn.
When we learn from the low points in our lives, we will be able to tackle the next challenge with more poise, effectiveness, and wisdom; we will continue to elevate our game because we battled through and learned from the darker times.
I want to be transparent about this post… I was planning on a couple different blog post topics, but after a rough week, I felt compelled to write this to post to and for myself – although I think we all can learn a little something.
I’ve been running a rather uninspiring project at work over the past couple of months and I’ve been struggling to remain motivated and on point. The details aren’t necessary, but it’s just one of those projects that no one wants to run but has to get done. No one cares about it until they do. You won’t hear a positive word if things go well, but you will be torn to pieces if things go wrong. Oh yea, and it will suck up the vast majority of your time. Good fun…
This past week I especially found myself in a dark place. (Full disclosure, I brought this dark place on myself.) I broke the cardinal rule of mistakes – I assumed something, and it blew up in my face.
The good news – some people came to the rescue, and the task was completed on time with no residual issues. The bad news – I destroyed myself internally, and it lasted all week.
Reflecting back, I am proud of myself for a few things. I took my own advice from my post on Extreme Ownership and owned my failure. It wasn’t anyone else’s fault – it was mine. I had to face many people over e-mail and in person, and to all of them I admitted my failure, took full responsibility, and promised it would never happen again. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.
Before, during and after all the apologizing, my mind flooded with negative thoughts and self-centered mindsets. Maybe you’ve heard some of these before when things took a dive:
- “How did I let this happen?”
- “Am I less talented or not as sharp as I thought I was?”
- “I’m above / too good for this project (or thing).”
- “I’ve accomplished x, y and z in my life and this is what I’m doing?”
- “Everything I do / deliver gets shit on.”
- “I just want to quit!”
- And of course… Lengthy profanity based stream of conscience – there was a ton of that
I say all this to highlight that I let my ego get in the way, and it owned me for the better part of the week. Honestly, I still haven’t figured it all out. Truth be told, I limped through the week until I could finally escape to a 3 day holiday weekend, soak in the love and support of my family, and lick my (self-inflicted) wounds – just get away from it all.
So now that I’ve talked through my low point, let’s see what I can learn.
Don’t run from the low points – turn and learn from them
After a week of not being my best, I want to take this time to dig into what I can learn and hopefully provide stepping stones to help you do the same the next time a rough patch comes your way.
Take the time to reflect and ask yourself the tough questions
You know you put in the work, strive to do your best and are focused on growth, but when things go south, you need to stop and self assess – dig in deep, and get real.
Call it what you will – post-game analysis, lessons learned, retrospective, postmortem – but dedicate the time to hash out what went well, and more importantly what didn’t go well.
So whether it is through journaling, talking with a trusted friend, family member, or colleague, or whatever else works best for you, let’s figure out the following:
- “What actually happened, and is it really as bad as it is in your head?”
- Is the resulting problem fixable? Will business and life still go on? (The answer is almost always ‘yes’.)
- Do you still have your health, is your family safe, is there still a roof over your head and food on the table?
- Put things in true perspective and realize this is nothing in comparison to what could be wrong or what others may be going through.
- “Why are you feeling this way?”
- Did we realize our effort was sub-par?
- Were we blindsided by the unexpected and still scratching our heads?
- Did we expect a different result?
- Do we feel like we let people down?
- “How do you avoid this happening again?”
- Was the result due to information we had or didn’t have?
- If we had the information, what strategy could have worked better?
- If we didn’t have the information, what questions can we ask ourselves or others to complete the full picture? How can we avoid being caught off guard next time?
- Did we lean enough on our team members and other resources, or did we stretch ourselves too thin?
- Did we give it our full effort? If not, why? No matter what – people always deserve our full effort!
- Was the result due to information we had or didn’t have?
- What went well that what should we keep doing?
- Even in the roughest of situations, there are always components that went well that we can leverage in the future – never prevent yourself from seeing the good in the bad!
I need to answer these questions and more for myself, and challenge you do the same the next time things don’t go to plan.
Part of the reason I’m at a low point is because I screwed up.
I blew the logistics for receiving an equipment delivery. I caused other people to drop what they were doing to fix the situation. I made bad assumptions. I failed by not asking all the right questions to gather requirements and expectations. Most importantly, I know I didn’t give it my all – if I did, perhaps my screw up wouldn’t have happened.
No matter the circumstance, the critical part is to take responsibility. Own the failure.
If I wanted to, I could have come up with excuses or looked for other people to blame. However something my high school football coach told me echoed in my head and rang true – “Excuses are like a$$holes, everyone has one and they all stink.”
The Inner Athlete doesn’t make excuses – we own our mistakes and the mistakes of our teams, and learn from them to get better and elevate our game.
Stay focused on the bigger picture
More often than not, the gravity of the situation going on in our heads is much worse than in reality. In my case, everything was back to normal within an hour or two, yet I lived in my personal hell of ‘how did I let that happen?’ and all the self-centered garbage for the rest of the week. My drive, motivation, and optimism were running on empty.
These low points are temporary and often pale in comparison to the bigger picture. If we are pursing something big in our life then we will experience setbacks. It’s expected. Besides, if we are being honest with ourselves and everything is going right all the time, then we aren’t thinking or playing big enough.
Never lose sight of the bigger picture, our goals, or our ambitions.
For me, this project is just one of many I’m running. Those other projects are in the best shape I can have them in despite their own unique challenges, and we are moving the ball forward.
I’ve helped spearhead strategy development for our client, and am working with my colleagues to slowly but surely take our client’s organization to a higher level.
Most importantly, I am here to help my company build their business and create new opportunities for our team. I will not let this one project define my overall success or worth.
Or “Woman Up” – not sure if there is a gender neutral phrase for that, but you know what I mean.
My point is that sometimes the work or task sucks, and it still needs to get done. We need to put the egos aside, roll up our sleeves and shovel that pile of shit. More so, we need to shovel it with a smile on our face and with our full effort. Why?
- We will be better for it when we are done.
- We will clear the way for bigger, better, and more meaningful things.
- We can look our peers and clients in the face and ourselves in the mirror, and know that we gave it our all – win, lose or draw.
- We can redefine excellence in the face of adversity.
The Path Forward
We will face rough patches and difficult times in our lives – it is unavoidable. Rather than let the negative emotions and reactions into your life, get excited! Take that next rough patch as an opportunity to learn about yourself when things aren’t going great. By looking through a positive lens, we give ourselves the opportunity to grow and come out the other end better, stronger and more resilient.
While I can’t take back my reaction to this past week’s screw up, I pledge to battle my next one with poise, selflessness and a willingness and hunger to learn and improve.
Let’s pick our selves up, get back out there, and make an impact!
Discussion Question: Think about a recent low point in your life. What did you learn from the experience? Do you feel stronger as an individual having been through it? If you didn’t take the time to reflect, make some time and see what you can learn. It may not be fun to rehash, but you will be better for it!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."