“I learned there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead, others come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready, you see. Now my troubles are going to have trouble with me.”
While in college, studying for my bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, I was determined to graduate with a straight A average … and almost did. But one particularly difficult class in “Constitutional Law” stood in the way. The professor was well known for seldom giving anyone an A in that class.
When the professor asked us to write a research paper, I was committed to making an A on that paper. And I spared no effort. I clocked all-nighters. I consulted hundreds of research articles. And even though the professor only asked for a ten to twelve page paper, I turned in a twenty-page paper, complete with footnotes.
You can imagine my shock and dismay when I got my paper back with an F on it. Not only did I not make an A, I did not make a B, C, or a D either. There was an F in bold red print across the top. I was crushed. I didn’t know how I could have done any better.
Then I noticed a handwritten note on the bottom of the paper. The professor had written, “Great scholarship, great detail, and great effort, but you answered the wrong question.” All of my extraordinary work had been directed at the wrong thing.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t sincere. It wasn’t that I wasn’t working hard. My failure was simply due to the fact that I focused on the WRONG thing.
And in a very similar sense, some people struggle way too much when challenges come into their work life or personal life … because they take the WRONG approach.
The truth is … you’re going to have lots of challenges, even problems and crises. There’s no getting around that. But there is a RIGHT way to approach those challenges. And on Thursday, February 23rd, at 3:00 p.m. EST, I’ll be spending an hour with you on my tele-seminar called “Tough Times Never Last But Tough People Do,” going into great depth, outlining the RIGHT way.
1. Decide that quitting is not an option.
Personally, I hate it when the media describe some actor, singer, or athlete as an “overnight success.” I hate it because … at worst it’s a lie … and at best it’s very misleading. I’ve learned that it takes years of “refusing to quit” to become an “overnight success.”
Actor Christopher Reeve achieved superstar status and then had an equestrian accident in 1994 that paralyzed him. Talk about a devastating challenge. And talk about wanting to quit. But he didn’t. He went on to dedicate the rest of his life to promoting research on spinal cord injuries … and became a bigger superstar than he ever was in the movies.
Was it easy? Of course not. When he was asked if he ever felt like quitting, Reeve answered, “I don’t think there is anybody who’s ever achieved anything who doesn’t say sometimes, ‘This is too hard.’ Backwards thinking leads to a place of negativity. That’s not where I want to dwell.”
If you decide not to quit, you will automatically be ahead of most people dealing with similar challenges. As three-time Olympian Ruben Gonzalez says, “When you decide quitting is not an option, you will soon be in the top 10 percent of your field. Odds are, ninety percent of your competition will simply give up!”
2. Remember … if others have overcome challenges, so can you.
You are not alone, even though you might feel like you’re the only one who has had to deal with your kind of boss, with your kind of financial difficulties, with your kind of rebellious teen, or with your kind of demanding customers. Remember lots of other people have gone through the same things and have survived.
It’s what turned John Walsh around. When his six-year-old son was abducted, there was no system for tracking information or leads on missing children. Walsh said, “After the abduction and murder of my child, I was very angry and bitter for a long time.”
What helped him get beyond that was to realize he was not alone. He now advises, “No matter what difficult situation you may find yourself in, take solace in knowing that thousands of people have survived tragic circumstances.”
If you forget this simple point, you could get stuck in self-pity, and that will never help you get through your challenges. That’s why I tell the people in my “Journey to the Extraordinary” program, “If you must cry over spilled milk, please try to condense it.”
3. Fight back.
In other words, don’t take your crises, problems, and challenges sitting down. Don’t succumb to some self-defeating thought such as “that’s life” or “whatever will be will be.” No! Fight back to make things better.
That’s exactly what John Walsh did. With all of his hurt and anger over the murder of his child, he said, “I tried to channel that anger into something positive because it can both take you down and destroy you or you can try to use it to change things for the better. Adam was the real victim. I just needed to make sure he didn’t die in vain.”
And Adam didn’t die in vain. With Walsh’s efforts, he created the “America’s Most Wanted” TV show and helped Congress pass the Missing Children’s Assistance Act in 1984.
Take Walsh’s advice. He claims, “If you can do it with dignity and integrity, you can fight back and go on. Life is a journey of incredible highs and incredible lows. No matter what happens to you, you can survive. It’s all about fighting back.”
4. Fight with a positive attitude.
But you ask, “How can I keep a positive attitude when times are really tough?” It all comes down to choice … a choice YOU make.
After his accident people wondered how Christopher Reeve maintained a positive attitude. He answered, “I believe you have two choices in life. One is to look forward and the other is look backward. To look backward gets you nowhere.”
Don’t miss his key point … looking forward. Business advisor Allan Cox reinforces that point. He says, “Achievers have an attitude of expectancy. They minimize their losses. They do not grieve over failures or what might have been. Achievers look around the corner in anticipation of the good things that still await them.”
In other words, you keep a positive attitude by thinking more about the future than the past. Or in Arthur Bryan’s words, “Live out your imagination, not your history.”
I’ve found one of the best ways to do that is to give myself a pep talk. Ruben Gonzalez agrees. He says, “It’s easy to get down when things aren’t going your way. After a bad luge run, sometimes I walk up and down the track for 20 minutes, saying: ‘I can do it! I will make it, because there’s always a way!’ When you get down, pick yourself up and give yourself a pep talk.”
5. Give trying the respect it deserves.
You’ve probably heard some version of the saying, “Do or do not do; there is no try,” which is most often attributed to the Star Wars character Yoda. And it tends to imply there’s something wrong with “trying.”
Well, yes and no. If the quote is used to motivate an employee to do whatever it takes to succeed, if the quote is used to get an employee past a whiny “I’ll try” response, it may be quite appropriate. But there are other times that “trying” should be encouraged and respected. “Trying” may be an excellent way to learn what works and doesn’t work when it comes to getting through your challenges.
For example, the manager of a retail store may encourage a struggling salesperson to try out several ways of approaching customers as they enter the store. The clerk might walk up to the customer, look her in the eye, and offer help. Alternatively, the clerk might make eye contact, say “Hi” in a friendly way, and tell the customer to let him know if she needs any help. The salesperson is bound to learn what works better by “trying” a few different approaches.
So if you’re dealing with a challenge, don’t put yourself down because you don’t know exactly what to do. Try a few different things.
6. Avoid the blame game.
Sometimes you have work challenges or personal problems that you caused. Take responsibility for your screw-up and then do the five things listed above to get past your situation. But do not wallow in self-degradation.
Other times you have to deal with difficulties you did not cause or difficulties over which you have no control. If you blame yourself for those situations, you cannot get better.
It’s like the children who blame themselves for their parents’ divorce, or the person who blames himself for his friend’s suicide attempt, or the coworker who blames herself for her alcoholic coworker’s job loss. All those people tend to think, “If only I had been more supportive … loving … helpful … or … aware … this wouldn’t have happened.”
While it’s true we’re quite interdependent as human beings, that is not the same thing as assuming responsibility for another person’s actions. You must be an influence for good wherever you can … without blaming yourself for the troubles of other people … or asking them to take responsibility for yours.
7. Tackle your troubles WITH somebody else … if possible.
After Reeve had his accident, after he became paralyzed, he started speaking at success seminars and continued to speak at them until his death in 2004.
Of course, his audiences wanted to know how he defined success, now that he was no longer a movie star and no longer able to move. His definition had nothing to do with fame or fortune. It all came down to relationships. He said, “I think it really means letting the relationships in your life grow and transcend into the highest levels they possibly can. It also means not putting yourself first in life and remembering that the more you give away, the more you have.”
In other words, his accident helped him realize the critical importance of relationships, and those relationships helped him move through his challenges.
I totally agree with him. On the second day of my “Journey to the Extraordinary” program, which is focused on building more effective relationships on and off the job, I tell the people, “If you think relationships are a lot of work, trying doing everything all by yourself.” So tackle your troubles WITH somebody else … if possible.
And finally, in your efforts to get past your challenges, there’s one sure way to know that you’re making progress. And that is …
8. Move on to a new problem.
If you keep dealing with the same problems with your boss, coworker, customer, spouse, kid, or friend, week after week or even year after year, you haven’t learned much about the process of mastering and overcoming challenges. John Foster Dulles, one of the most distinguished statesmen of the 20th century, put it very insightfully, “The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.”
The point is … every time you get through a challenge, do more than say, “I’m glad that’s over with … Thank heavens … or … Good riddance.” Take a few minutes to sit down and think about what you learned. In fact write down your learning in a journal so you don’t have to learn the same lesson twice.
Follow Karen Post’s example. As the founder of the online Oddpodz community, she advises, “My universal recommendation on facing challenges is simple: Learn from them and shake them off quickly.”