So, where I live, it’s 25 degrees outside…not so cold that you’re gonna die in 10 minutes, but certainly colder than the inside of my warm, comfortable apartment, which incidentally is where my keys resided tonight.
We were cleaning the bathroom, realized we forgot to buy bleach, and decided to pop over to the store to buy some. Coat? check. Hat? Yep. Car key? Of course.
Her: You have the house keys, right?
Me: No, I thought you had them.
Us: (in unison) SON OF A BITCH!
There was a time when something like this would have launched me into a tirade, a blame-fest, a high-blood-pressure-eyeball-twitching-spit-flying-assault on anyone and anything around me. Some of you reading this know me, and can attest to the accuracy of this.
I’ve, fortunately, been on a long, long quest to adjust my attitude such that little inconveniences like this don’t totally destroy my frame of mind…and rather than going to the ER or to jail or to the doghouse, I took a different (and thankfully, increasingly common!) path. With the down time I suddenly found myself enjoying tonight, I started thinking about what lessons such a turn of events could have for me.
1. There’s something to be gained from every negative situation – if you allow the positivity to happen.
When stupid crap happens, you still have a choice. Our default tends to be to let situations dictate our emotions. We tend to think that negative situations cause negative emotions. But it doesn’t necessarily have to work that way.
My take is that negative situations should SCREAM to you “lessons abound, open your eyes and ears and take them in.” I am thankful when stupid stuff happens to me, because I’ve seen it pan out so many times: negative situations are far better teachers than everyday life could ever be.
Whether it’s a failure at work, an argument, or something as dumb as locking your keys in the house, there really is a choice in how you react, and what you allow the situation to teach you.
2. Be prepared, and have a back-up plan.
I had a boss once who used to say, “Something is going to go wrong tomorrow, so I have to always get today’s work done today.” It’s a little pessimistic, but pretty realistic. Stuff always goes wrong…it’s just a matter of what and when. If you procrastinate and think you’ll deal with stuff tomorrow, that plan is going to backfire eventually.
So it goes with just about everything. Do you think “during the apocalypse” is a good time to figure out that you don’t have a first aid kit, the car is on empty, your cell phone isn’t charged, and you don’t have post-apocalypse-zombie-and-mutant-attack insurance? No, of course not. The problem is, all of that tends toward being the last thing on your mind when you’re just hanging out at the house, playing your Sega Genesis and sipping on a Capri-Sun, or whatever you kids do these days.
Take my old boss’s advice: the shit is going to hit the fan sometime, and when it does, you need to have today’s work done so you can easily focus on solving the new problem.
Keep your gas tank on ¾ full. Keep your phone charged. Program your apartment maintenance line into your phone. Maybe stash a spare key or something. (This is part of my “Rickey invents a time machine and goes back and reads his own blog posts” strategy).
The point is – don’t wait until you need a plan. The universe gives you little hints (like awesome blog posts from me!). Take those hints, and be glad you did once you actually need them.
3. Never burn any bridges – or if you do, refer back to number 2.
A while back, my refrigerator stopped working. I called maintenance, they sent someone out, who left me a note blaming it on me: your freezer is too full and that caused the refrigerator to stop working. I lost my shit. I had moved much of the off-temperature food from my refrigerator to the freezer the night before to salvage what I could. It was not only the wrong answer, it blamed me for the problem.
I called maintenance and left a nasty voicemail, only to have Maintenance Lady call me and literally curse me out for being rude. As I told her, I pay rent for a place with a working refrigerator, and rude or not, my apartment was presently uninhabitable. They wound up fixing it, but suffice it to say Maintenance Lady hated my guts.
I probably should have chiggity-checked myself, but I didn’t, ergo, I presumably wrecked myself.
Imagine my surprise when Maintenance Lady was the person who contacted me today, in my moment of crisis!
When I heard her voice, I immediately thought shit, this lady is going to remember how rude I was to her, and she’s going to screw me over right now. I could hear the tinge of angst in her voice, being stuck helping the guy who she no doubt remembered from the altercation a few months back.
But what did she do?
She helped me. She could have been petty, but instead she was professional.
The lesson, however, is the same: don’t burn bridges, because you simply never know when you might need them again. And if you don’t care, then you better damned well have a back-up key stashed somewhere…because not everyone is a professional and kind as Maintenance Lady.
4. Don’t let a setback derail you beyond the present.
This is a huge a-ha moment for me, and one that is only recently starting to play out. I’ve always been guilty of letting “what happened earlier” live on as an excuse for my shitty behavior and attitude later.
I had a flat tire, so I’m justified in being rude to an employee.
I had a rough day at work, so GF needs to understand and give me space.
I locked myself out of my house, so my evening’s plans are ruined.
But guess what! That’s all nonsense. It’s a cop-out. It takes my power away, and gives it to circumstance. It blames my attitude on situations, instead of blaming my attitude on me. It’s immature.
Here’s a trick: when you find yourself saying “so”, say “and” instead. Watch:
I had a flat tire, and now I’m being rude to an employee. Those two aren’t causally related, and they especially aren’t related in the eyes of the employee.
I had a rough day at work, and now I’m being cold and distant to GF so she’ll leave me alone. Those two aren’t causally related, except for the fact that I’m using one to excuse the other.
I locked myself out of my house, and now I’m using it as an excuse to avoid the work I’d originally set out to do.
One of the biggest “life lessons” I’ve been working on internalizing for the last several years is that I am 100% responsible for how I act. It’s not my parents’ fault, it’s not my depression’s fault, it’s not my GF’s fault. It’s mine. I have infinite free will, and can choose everything – even my emotions – and when that’s especially hard, I can still choose how I deal with it.
5. When things go wrong – debrief, regroup, and use it to prevent/soften future problems.
Look, shit’s gonna happen. It happens to everyone. Perhaps the biggest difference between people who perpetually succeed and people who chronically fail is how they dissect the situation and use what they find to improve their situation going forward.
Mistakes happen…but repeated mistakes aren’t “mistakes” – they’re choices. If you screw up, but don’t take ownership and ask yourself how you can avoid screwing up again, I can almost guarantee you that you’re going to repeat your mistake.
Note: it’s not just about debriefing – it’s about debriefing from the point of view that your mistakes are YOURS to own.
I can’t say that debriefing with a good, ownership frame of mind is going to permanently insulate you from future mistakes. But I can tell you that it will tip the scales just a little in your favor, and make the next mistake either avoidable, or at the least a little less painful.