Do you remember that old saying “When it rains it pours?” How about the one that says bad things always comes in threes? My friend Alli wrote a great post on the later saying on her blog Break the Frame titled “Ever Wonder: Why do Bad Things Happen to Me” check it out here. There is a fantastic video there that I have to say I found my inner self saying “guilty of that” many times while I was watching it. So over the past couple of weeks I have had my chance to sing the “poor me” anthem several times. Each time I had a major personal setback or challenge in the office I was tempted to fall into that line of thinking where all I see is doom and gloom and from there I start to think “why bother.” If you are the type of person who never succumbs to these types of thoughts then I encourage you to read on in hopes of better understanding those of us who do have these tendencies. If you can relate then read on too, perhaps you will glean a spark of hope knowing you are not alone.
About 19 years ago I heard a man say something that has profoundly impacted the way I think. He said, “If 20 people walked into a room and laid all their life’s problems out on the table, then everyone in the room was given the chance to pick up someone else’s problems or walk out with their own, each time the people would choose to keep their own problems.” Now without over analyzing that statement what he was saying was we always feel like we have it so bad until we take the time to listen to the problems that others face. I slowly began to realize that being willing to acknowledge that yes I have challenges, we all do, and accepting that these challenges could always be worse, allows to me have hope. After all hope is the ingredient that moves us forward.
My problems these past two weeks stemmed out of dealing with engine trouble. It was not just the fact that my vehicle would not run, or the financial impact, it was also the time required and the drastic and unexpected change in my schedule that added to the burden. As I began to reflect what I was seeing in my response was that I was extremely frustrated that things were out of order. The routine I had created for myself was disrupted forcing me to miss some key meetings, rescheduling my workouts, and canceling some plans. How did this look to others? I came across impatient, stressed, bothered and at times downright grumpy. Those are character traits that I do not like to exhibit. I try hard to be even tempered and available for those I work with. The truth is life does not pause for anyone. As my wife always says (she is definitely a glass half full person) “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, I wasn’t making lemonade instead I looked like I was munching on lemons – sour. Why I am writing about this? Is it because I find great joy in broadcasting my shortcomings? Hardly. I am writing about this because I think there is a lesson for us all in this.
If I stop to ask myself, “What is the hidden opportunity in this situation?” I can usually find a silver lining. However, that is not the point for me. The point is if I really reflect on “life” and that is just it, this is just “life”. It is full of ups and downs. When I stop to reflect on how I react to these challenges I become more humble and I am able to better engage with those around me. If I allow myself to be human and realize that if I get thrown off sometimes and react in a way that I am not proud of then I best be willing to allow others the same grace. If I respond negativity to others when they are not at their best then what should I expect from others when I am not at my best? Understanding that things could always be worse is not meant to minimize our problems it is meant to help us have empathy for ourselves and others. As a leader it is key that I pause and think about not only how I carry myself in good times and bad but how I respond to others during their trials. I must be willing to admit when I have not acted in accordance with my on core values. I must be vulnerable enough that others will not feel threatened to come to me when I am not walking my own talk. One trait of a remarkable leader is that we inspire others to change. I have found that we can do that through our failures and our successes.
So I leave you with this. “The quality of a great leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.” Ray Kroc