I have a good friend who’s been a successful business owner for nearly two decades. Recently, in the span of one week, her most valuable employee resigned, one of her children experienced a medical condition relapse and a major client decided to not renew their contract with her company.
That week, everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong.
I’m willing to bet you’ve had similar circumstances confront you at one time or another. And, you’ve likely experienced the same feelings of loss, drop in confidence and fear for what the future holds she did.
Her situation got me thinking about why negative events happen to really good people. What is their value in human growth? How can the challenge help you better live your life’s mission? What is the best process to reflect on and learn from the events?
As I thought about these questions, I began thinking about the optimal rate of personal development and finding an equilibrium in that. Some people try hard to force “success” (as society defines it) by working long hours, hyper-focusing on wealth creation or investing too much time in non-value-add relationships. These activities and more can drive misalignment between the most authentic version of you and what you feel you need to be to be accepted by a society with radically different priorities.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “To be yourself in a world constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Do you agree with Emerson?
I do. My coaching methods are built on giving everyone an equal chance to be unequal in any way they desire.
When you experience a week like my friend did, please consider taking an afternoon for yourself to answer and design an action plan around these eight questions.
1. Who can I speak with?
Robert Waldinger’s work with The Harvard Study of Adult Development (watch his TED Talk) found that relationships are core to you living a long, happy and healthy life. Find 2 – 3 trusted people you can vulnerably share your experiences with. You’ll feel a deeper level of acceptance, hear ideas you hadn’t thought of and feel more confident in a direction moving forward.
2. What do you have to gain?
When negative events occur humans have a tendency to focus on what we have to give up, not what we have to gain. Your judgment may be clouded by how your daily routine is changing in ways you weren’t expecting or had control over. Once you’ve mentally accepted the events occurred, take time to think about the possibilities the change may offer you. In my friend’s case, that may mean shifting to a new business model, finding a cure for her child’s illness or securing a new client bringing in double the revenue.
3. What will remain the same?
Similar to #2, the human brain tends to focus on aspects of life that are changing but forget about the parts of life that will remain the same. Most of your daily routine, family relationships, income, hobbies, etc. will be nearly identical to the way they were before the challenges occurred. Consider making a list of your weekly activities that will go unchanged and feel comfort in that consistency.
4. How am I being challenged?
Some of the best personal development is derived from making mistakes. If you haven’t listened to Astro Teller’s TED Talk about celebrating failure, I think you’ll enjoy it. Also, can you find patterns across the challenging events? There are significant lessons in those patterns because they identify areas of opportunity and areas where you should no longer devote effort. All challenges are beneficial if viewed as learning experiences.
5. What are your long-term goals?
Feel comfort in knowing that a negative event is a small hiccup on a far longer journey. It is meant to help guide your future action more clearly so you distribute time into effort more closely aligned with your life’s mission. Take a step back and complete a time study on the last two weeks of your life. Was the majority of your activity spent in support of or against your goals?
6. Who should I remove from my life?
Change often offers you the chance to refocus your energies on more meaningful people, things and experiences. When I facilitate change inside corporations, I try to find out who the negative influencers are and either get them on board with the change or exit them from the organization. If you have persons in your life who extract your energy, are selfish and rarely generate value for you, use this time as an excuse to exit him or her from your life.
7. What daily decisions can I automate?
Having small wins and feeling accomplished is paramount to you moving forward. By making minor tweaks to your schedule so you don’t get distracted easily, you’ll be far happier. Pick out your clothes the night before. Prepare your week’s lunches Sunday. Delegate more decisions to your team. Automate non-value-add decisions so you can focus on the things you care about most. James Clear has tremendous material about forming new habits. Check out his stuff.
8. How can I adjust my environment?
Maximizing your odds of success requires operating in an environment that creates a positive mindset and accelerates your results rather than hindering them. Do you need to work from a coffee shop to not be distracted by your pets? Maybe hang more inspirational artwork in your office? If you’re an introvert, can you schedule more alone time? If you’re an extrovert, can you schedule more dinners with friends? For more ways to improve the environment around you, consider listening to Dave Asprey’s podcast, BulletProof Radio.
When everything that can go wrong seems to be going wrong, ask yourself these questions. Achieve a new level of equilibrium, not through radical change, but through small wins each day. Your capacity for aligning the most authentic version of yourself with what will be accepted by our society increases.
As for my friend, I’m proud of the work she’s done to open up to her close friends, reconsider new possibilities for her business, learn important lessons about herself, slowly remove the negative influencers from her life and begin improving the environment that surrounds her.
Even though our world tried to make her something else, she’ll soon be herself, unique and unequal.