What is your gut reaction to a mistake? What is your 5 min reaction? How do you feel about it years later?
Friday nights are pizza and movie night at the Corella household. Boys were rabble-rousing, setting up the dinner trays, and arguing over which movie we were going to watch...as usual. The wife and I were cleaning up the kitchen and setting the table. Door knocks, pizza guy hands wife the pizza, wife hands pizza guy the cash tip (she’d already paid for the pizza online), movie commences. All is well.
Next day the family is out on one of our usual weekend trips; be it to the park, the museum, adjoining city herbal garden, etc. We stop to get some coffee and chocolate milks. As we get to paying, my wife grabs her pocketbook and begins exasperatingly flipping through the various bills and receipts looking for the $100 bill that she wants to break before we continue on our weekend jaunt. She can’t find it. Uh-oh.
We pay the cashier and go on our way. My wife is visibly frustrated. Did she give the pizza guy the best cash tip of his life? You guessed it. After a few moments of silence my wife finally speaks, “well, we certainly made his night.” Exactly.
Can you picture the pizza guy’s reaction when he got back to his car? The cynical types would probably say, “the pizza guy was a thief! he should have gone back and asked if you really meant to give him a monstrous tip.” The mean types would probably say, “You guys are idiots, you got what you deserve.” I prefer to think that we gave that pizza guy a great story. Maybe he called us morons, maybe he laughed, maybe he cried. Maybe he really needed that extra bit of cash to complete his weekend or pay his bills. The catalyst in the whole event was my wife’s final reaction. She realized the futility in holding on to the anger associated with the slip up.
So now whenever we stumble, at work or in our personal lives, we pause and ask ourselves how could we react? Anger and martyrdom are easy. Humor and perspective are harder and what we strive for: what kind of story will we be able to tell 1,5,10 years from now?
Off to create more stories.
How many times have you heard the phrase, “You’re making a HUGE mistake!”? I’ve heard it 18 times (yes, I keep track) that I can distinctly remember in my professional life. Add in the personal life decisions - to get married young, to have kids close together, to get tattoos, to get ears pierced (c’mon everybody was doing it right? right?), etc - and I come up with more than two dozen times when I was told that I would be making a mistake. Fortunately, that type of foreboding response doesn’t seem to resonate with me and I shall attempt to explain. Let’s start with the dictionary.
1: a wrong judgment : misunderstanding
2: a wrong action or statement proceeding from faulty judgment, inadequate knowledge, or inattention
1: to blunder in the choice of <mistook her way in the dark>
2a : to misunderstand the meaning or intention of :misinterpret <don't mistake me, I mean exactly what I said>b : to make a wrong judgment of the character or ability of
3: to identify wrongly : confuse with another <I mistook him for his brother>
Based on definitions above, I would argue that for the individual to judge my decision as a mistake, the individual providing the opinion would have to have specific, intimate knowledge of the potential outcome. Is that possible? Can a person really know exactly what is going to happen to you if you make a choice to change careers? Pursue a project? Relocate? How can they possibly know how you’re going to react? Can anyone truly foresee the long term impact of your decision? Perhaps people weren’t really saying, “you’re making a HUGE mistake!” Maybe what they were trying to say was, “you’re making a decision that I don’t support”; or perhaps “you’re choosing a path that I fear”; or better yet, “a path I don’t fully understand.”
So how does, then, one handle naysayers? Do as George Jean Nathan said and treat them with “polite inconsideration”?
I’ve heard countless stories from friends and family lamenting how they wished they HADN’T listened to their negative Nellies and jumped at the opportunity to pursue crazy project X; or conversely, wished they HAD listened to such and such who told them that they SHOULD do crazy thing Y. For me specifically, if I had listened to what I'm sure was well-intentioned advice, I would not have experienced the events, or met the people, or accomplished the things that I have in my life.
Now, to be clear, I’m not arguing in favor of reckless abandon or doing hurtful, spiteful and certainly not illegal activities. I think it’s a carefully weighted balance of filtering out the fear from the productive counsel; then, above all, DO something, ACT on it.
I recently mused that one can waste an entire lifetime lamenting how things should be...instead of how they can be. If you find yourself fearful of the potential outcomes, you may never find the possible outcomes. The take-away for me is this: one day you’re going to wake up and be 80 years old, how many different experiences will you have chalked up? My wife and I created a manifesto for our kids (call it our family operating plan) and in it we say “that only experiences count”. I truly believe that. When all is said and done all you will have in the end is your memories, your stories; and stories require action.
Try it for yourself. Take an inventory of all the times you were advised that you were making a big mistake. Don’t have that many? Maybe it’s time to consider “making a mistake.” As I said in a previous post, “If you don’t step in it once in a while, you’re probably on a too-well trodden path. Take a detour.”
So where have I been? Transitioning to a new role and relocating again would probably be enough to take some time off and ease up on the extra-curricular activities right? No, higher levels of day-to-day stress or significant career / personal upheavals don’t require me to “slow down” or “take it easy”; I still have my nights and periodic, non-family, quiet times where I can reflect, meditate, and “ideate”. This latest hiatus was due to my body crapping out. And not the kind of oft-purported stress-induced shut down or mental breakdown; I find that those kinds of breakdowns are prevented with daily exercise, proper nutrition, sex with my lovely wife, and humor. I’m talking about my internal organs just deciding that they’re going to stop working, completely out of my control. This time it’s my gallbladder (my appendix decided it was time to exodus about a year ago).
In a nutshell, the entire month of March was spent in hospitals, Doctor’s office, specialist offices, testing offices, radiology departments, you name it. Nobody could figure out what was wrong with me. I didn’t have any classic indicators that normally accompany a failing gallbladder. It wasn’t until my wife talked about my condition with her best friend that we finally asked the Doctor about a HIDA scan; a long test that is used to determine if the gallbladder is functioning properly even if there are no gallstones. As it turns out, my gallbladder is not working and it must be taken out; so now I wait for the minimally invasive procedure.
Whilst all this was happening, I observed two things. One, I found it curious (and frustrating) the frequency to which friends and family kept proffering advice and defaulting to stress-induced causes despite me presenting overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Second, if life is a balance between mind, body, and soul - for me, body is the base. As I stated before, I actively manage the mind-body-soul interaction by exercising daily, eating ridiculously healthy, reading prolifically, ravaging the wife, entertaining the boys, and meditating as best as I can. But when the body, through no control of my own, decides it’s done, the whole equation goes. I have no surplus energy to put to my side projects; I have no personal desire or drive to keep creating instead of simply consuming. My entire focus falls on getting better, to getting the “host” back to working order.
I oft get upset when things don’t work as they should, especially when I follow all the prescribed preventative measures. I.e. if you get regular oil changes, you should get longer car life. Therefore, my reasoning goes, if you eat healthy & exercise regularly, you should get a longer, more consistent, body life and body performance. However, based on this latest episode, perhaps the equation isn’t that easy (especially when you think about George Burns). Perhaps some things truly are out of my control despite my best efforts to mitigate them. Better stated, instead of getting upset when things don’t operate as the “should”, more acceptance is the key. To be clear, however, I’m still not going to “slow down” Mom, sorry.
One of my favorite parts of the movie Monsters, Inc was when Sulley and Mike first discover that laughter is significantly more powerful than screams. The same applies, I believe, to positive versus corrective feedback. [For the purposes of this discussion, positive feedback means I like the behavior and corrective feedback means I don’t like the behavior].
I’m a big proponent of giving feedback as the situation is happening. If a restaurant includes a website on the receipt, I jot down a few notes on the back and log-on at night. If there’s a comment card available at the store, I’ll fill it out. I earnestly feel that feedback is the only thing anybody will ever give you for FREE and has the potential to improve your life. At the very least, all feedback, positive or corrective, has in some form allowed me to gain some new insight about myself or the person delivering the feedback. Even when the feedback was non-illuminating (I already knew via other sources) or wasteful (no value add, cruel, etc) I learned something about the feedback giver - regardless, I learned something and learning = gain. I feel that positive feedback, however, goes the furthest in improving a person’s countenance.
At times, we can get so focused on what we’re not getting, focused on providing corrective feedback (e.g. “Miss, my food is cold”; “Sir, this is not the service that I expected”; “Excuse me, why is this taking so long?”) that we fail to understand how much more powerful positive feedback is to achieving long term behavioral change. How often do we go out of our way to recognize the waiter when he did something RIGHT; even if he was just “doing his job”? How often do we ask to “speak to the manager” to publicly commend the grocery store check-out girl for her expedient processing of your groceries? Personally, I find it more invigorating to look for the good of the event versus the bad.
A simple token of appreciation or notice can profoundly energize (laughter vs. screams). A simple, “hey, you’re doing well” or “I noticed you how you handled this and you did good” and of course, “thank you” can fundamentally alter the mood of your and the receiver’s day.
Special thanks for Justin for taking time out of his day to say “good job”.
By my last count, I've lived in 2 countries, 7 states, 15 different cities and have had 20+ address changes. Personally, I have never seen anything "wrong" with my personal statistics. Quite the contrary in fact, I relish - and if asked - will brag about them. Even so, the other night a student challenged my position by asking me, "what about your kids? Don't they want to grow up around the same friends?" I replied that they, nor I, know anything different. I've been on the move since I was kid, moving back and forth across the US and Mexico border and spending large swaths of time in Central Mexico as well.
So will all the relocating negatively affect my kids? Ben's bias is that "geographically rooted childhood tend to be more confident and happier, if less interesting." I lean more to what some of his readers comments: you can't change your childhood and it all comes back to parenting. My kids appear to get a great deal of joy from being able to send Christmas cards to 4 different continents and across 16 different states (when my wife pinned the addresses on a world map, their eyes lit up!). More so, whenever they start a new school, they seem to radiate when they are asked to present of picture collage of themselves. It's not too many elementary school kids that have experienced as much as they have in such a short time frame.
As I told my student, my kids grew up relocating with the military and now in Corporate America, the same stays true - they've only known this life. More importantly, my wife and I ultimately determine their relocating response: If our attitude radiates positivity, then so shall theirs.
What is the difference between being comfortable versus being complacent? I have no idea, so I challenge myself. Challenge my thinking, my parenting, my husband-ing; attempt to challenge my assumptions and my understanding of things. I won't get it right all the time so I welcome all constructive feedback. The goal? To "...be satisfied with life always but never with one's self." (George Jean Nathan)