6 Themes to Help Guide Your Response
You’ve likely heard it said, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” Of course, you can also get experience when you do get what you want. So that can’t be all there is to it. What if you don’t like the way things turned out?
Legitimately, I’m being asked the question on multiple fronts that comes down to something like this: “What if what I’m getting isn’t what I wanted?” As with many questions, the answer will, of course, vary based on the circumstances, but there are a couple of situations where I’m seeing this play out more than others, so let me offer some food for thought there.
- I tried something, and it didn’t work. I went after something (a new job, perhaps, a solution approach, a new technology answer, a new strategy), and it didn't take. I started moving along a specific path, and the doors seemed to close one after another, making that path not possible. Now what?
- I’m in an organizational context, and there’s a request or directive coming from above me that’s problematic. I see risks, challenges, potential problems, and real reasons why it won’t work. And I was told, “do it anyway.” Now what?
- I had options in front of me, and I picked the option I thought was best, and now that option is not right for me anymore. I’d made a decision, but I realize I made a decision that’s not the right one, and I need to “undo” it or make a different decision. Now what?
In one way or another, each of these is asking the question, What do I do if I don’t like the answer in front of me? Let me offer some global themes for consideration that might help you find your way through a specific situation.
1. Embrace the learning.
Sometimes when we don’t get what we want, our response can be to be frustrated, angry, disappointed, or sad. Your feelings are your feelings, and I’m not here to tell you they’re wrong or to not have them. But what you do with your feelings is a pretty significant piece of how you’ll get through them. (Remember Mr. Roger’s song “What do you do with the mad that you feel?”) Try adopting a posture of curiosity. I like questions along these lines: What did I learn from this circumstance? What do I know now that I didn’t know before? What can I take away as something to do differently next time? Based on what’s in front of me now, what options are available to me for next steps? If I can’t pursue path A, what alternative path can I head down?
2. Align your actions with your goals.
Make sure that your new path, your additional request for information, or your action to revisit a decision is aligned with your strategy or your goals. Once new information comes available, it’s okay - even desirable - to review your current course in light of that information. They say the greatest predictor of an individual’s ability to succeed in an organization is that individual’s ability to put the organization first. That doesn’t mean working to the bone at the cost of mental wellness to meet unreasonable demands; rather, that means advocating for yourself and the employees in your care if you need to so that they can succeed on behalf of the organization. Make sure the course of action you’re pursuing and the way you’re interacting with those around you or in positions of leadership above you is consistent with the outcomes you hope to achieve.
3. Communication is hard.
This is a truth that comes up over and over again. Let’s assume for just a moment that you’ve tried to express your concerns to whoever has asked you to do the thing you’re concerned about. It’s probably fair to say that if you weren’t absolutely intentional and careful about that messaging, that something may have been mis-said or mis-heard. This is a great chance to stop and say something like, “I’m not sure I’ve expressed myself clearly, and I want to be intentional about careful communication. May I have an opportunity to clarify what I mean and why I’m concerned, and perhaps some of the solution ideas I’ve come up with so far?” Putting in the extra effort to help make sure your communication is clear, complete, and compelling can pay off tremendously.
4. Perfection is a direction, not a destination.
Whether you find yourself changing a course you charted, revisiting a decision you made, or you find yourself in a situation where those in leadership are making a decision that you don’t understand, let’s sprinkle on some grace here. You are not perfect, and no one is asking you to be. They are not perfect, and hopefully you’re not asking them to be. Perfection is not an achievable goal. Most of us are doing the best we can with the information available to us at the time. Make sure you’re not demanding the impossible of yourself or anyone else.
5. You're not alone.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all had doors close for us, things we’ve been asked to do we didn’t want to do, decisions we’ve had to revisit. We’ve all been in situations where the thing in front of us isn’t what we wanted or hoped for, and it may not even seem good. Chances are pretty high that if you ask a friend, colleague, or trusted advisor what they did in a similar situation, they’ll be able to cite a slew of stories where they, too, faced the undesirable, and you can find advice or at least comfort in hearing how they handled it.
6. The only thing you can really control is your own attitude, choose a good one.
This last one is a choice. You can choose to be unhappy about the way things have turned out. You can choose to let the rework or the retraced steps to irritate you or get under your skin. You can choose to be grouchy about being unheard or about the additional concerns you have. You can choose to be irritated by having to re-consider your decision. Or, you can choose a better attitude. You can choose to take what you’ve learned to make the next step easier. You can choose to look forward to the next adventure with optimism and hope. You can choose to get on board with trying to see what leadership sees that you don’t currently see, or you can choose to get on board with a different leadership in a different place if it’s a big enough concern. You can choose to count today as one of the good days because you’re ending it smarter than you started it. Being grouchy can rub off on those around you, and it can become an endless cycle of grouch. Looking for the up side, the positive, the good attitude - even if “it all pays the same” is the best you can come up with - is equally contagious. Your willingness to keep going, with a smile, will rub off on those around you, co-creating a self-sustaining cycle of positive, forward movement.
How have you applied themes like these when faced with something that isn't what you wanted? What other themes would you offer up for consideration?