Early this week I had a breakdown in my usual upbeat attitude about my position in life. I entertained the question, “What have I to show for my life?” I couldn’t identify what I would consider a ‘successful’ accounting for my professional life. I took a wide open psychological body blow. It knocked the wind out of my sails and I was temporarily stuck. Luckily, I have enough experience under my belt to recognize it for what it was – an intrusion. But I admit, it did set me back for a day or so. Fortunately I have a wonderful, loving, and brilliant wife to help me steer the ship back to safe waters before I drifted into the wasteland of doubt and self-pity.
Why do I tell you this? Because I learned something from my 2-day detour and want to pass it on to you. If I summed it up in a single word it would be GRATITUDE.
Here are six short principles born out of my excursion:
First, identify your wins
When in a funk it is hard to see anything else but the putrid cloud surrounding you. But you need to practice some self-awareness and discipline in these moments and identify wins. It could be anything. Your kind word to co-worker. Your well received sales presentation. Your landing of the big client last month. Anything that is a win – write it down. You may need help, depending on the fog, but identify something on which you can hang your hat. Don’t invite doubt in for tea. It clutters your thinking, delays rightful actions, and wastes your time. Respond in the opposite – remind yourself with what is true. Nothing begins to break up the clutter like a little clarity.
When in a shroud of doubt, the world is out to get you. No it isn’t. You are just feeling vulnerable. Don’t worry; EVERYONE feels at some point what you are feeling now. My wife helped me here. She helped me see again, something I already knew – not all of my successes are presented in shiny lights (my words not hers). When it comes down to it all my professional success will come down to how I treat people. My professional attainment is not what ultimately matters – people matter. Strive for healthy relationships and let ‘success’ be the by-product, not the prime-product!
Do not doubt your life choices
We are who we are because of our choices, not our circumstances. We don’t always make good choices. Welcome to humanity. But, we can recognize bad choices and learn from them. Stop asking the “What if?” There is not a way to determine a viable answer to that question. You will never get that back. Move on. We make choices every day based on the information and knowledge have at that time. It is time to ask new questions. Instead of “What if?” ask “What can be?” Past failures are the bedrock for future success.
Your ‘Then’ is not your ‘Now’
We all have checkered pasts. We all have areas of our life we would like to erase. So what? Who we are right now is a culmination of all the past experiences. When I was 19 I accepted a summer internship working with Jr. High students. Looking back, I would not hire me at 19 yrs. old. I was immature, insecure, and much less experienced than I thought I was. But I learned incredibly valuable lessons from that experience. Lessons on which I still draw (it is a really deep well). But that is why we live. We experience life as it comes and let if form us into who we want to be. In the words of John Maxwell, if you fail – fail forward.
Your worst critic is YOU
How you see yourself, is not what others see. At least, that is more or less true. Give yourself a break. You will never be able to keep the balancing act to stay atop of the pedestal on which you place yourself. If you make a mistake, own it. Ask yourself why you made that choice. Learn how to correct it. Do so. Move on.
Confession is good for the soul
A funk of self-doubt is debilitating. Stop trying to go it alone. Your arrogance and pride will only make it worse. Find someone you trust and let them in (for me it was my wife). A trusted friend is worth much more than their weight in gold. They help you get clarity. They help you identify your wins. They help you get off the sandbars and launch you back into deep waters. Remember “He who walks with the wise grows wise.”
How have you overcome the dreaded “What if?” and learned gratitude? Let me know.