9 Questions to Ask When Everything Goes Wrong
I guess it all started when the toddler took a blue marker to the chair.
His actions triggered a cascade of panic in my brain. It wasn’t just the chair that was a problem. Dishes cluttered the counter. Unpaid bills were splattered across the table. Unfolded clothes lay in a pile on THAT chair (you know the one).
As I bounced from thing to thing, my family gathered in the living room. They’d forgotten Colin’s chair coloring and were instead spending the time… you know… enjoying each other’s company or whatever.
My wife walked out of the room and grabbed my arm.
“Babe, what are you doing?”
“Kate, I can’t hang out now. There’s too much to be done.”
And then she said this:
“Name a single thing which can’t wait for tomorrow.”
A bomb detonated in the back of my mind.
The answer was nothing, of course. Nothing was urgent. Nothing was life or death. Nothing was falling apart.
Well, except me.
Here is an inconvenient side effect to being human: You are a slave to your biology.
Now, the good news: The actions resulting from your biological slavery are entirely up to you.
Stress creates tunnel vision. When we have tunnel vision, we revert to animal mode and react. I don’t like being an animal. So when the stress hits and the world crumbles, I try to slow down and ask these things.
What can I learn from this?
I was feeling pretty good about this question to begin with, but then I learned Oprah asks it whenever she fails, and so does mega motivational speaker Lisa Nichols.
So yeah, asking this question puts you in decent company. Here are Oprah’s own words:
“Here’s the key: Learn from every mistake, because every experience, particularly your mistakes, are there to teach you and force you into being more who you are.”
Mindsets like this are probably the reason you know who I’m talking about by first name only.
Who has it worse than me?
Barnes and Noble makes an evil wager with their customers around the holidays.
They wager that if you sign up for free magazines, you will be too overwhelmed, lazy, or indifferent of the $4 per month to cancel the subscription.
When they threw me in the roulette wheel. I lost. Now, a stack of Entertainment Weekly and Sports Illustrated sit unread on my dining room table.
On a whim, I picked up the other “free” gift: TIME Magazine. After flipping through a few pages randomly, a story sprung from the pages about a country I’d never heard of called Myanmar.
TIME painted a picture of Myanmar refugees fleeing to Bangledesh after watching “soldiers slaughtering civilians, raping women, torturing the elderly, and burning children to death. They arrived in a different country, barefoot, bruised, and barely alive.
And I sometimes get upset that more people didn’t sign up for my email list.
Can I fix this?
If yes, fix it.
Is this becoming a habit?
Performing an action over and over forms a layer of something called myelin in your brain.
Myelin is the coating which covers certain nerve fibers in your mind, making it easier for your mind and body to remember and repeat tasks you have done before.
Here’s the problem. Myelin doesn’t care what kind of actions you are taking. Its only job is ensuring the displacement of rarely used behaviors with efficient access to commonly used ones.
This is part of the reason smoking is so hard to quit, spending recklessly is tough to stop, and indulging past comfort is so much easier after Thanksgiving.
It’s also the reason you might have made the same mistake hundreds of time, with the same results.
Maybe it’s time to break the cycle.
Will I get another opportunity?
For this, I would like to refer to Sir Richard Branson, a sort of famous businessman.
“Business opportunities are like busses. There is always another one coming.”
What does this make possible?
Let me tell you something wonderful about the culture in America right now.
Failure is sexy.
We can’t wait to line up and tell you about the struggles from our hustle, the lost money, the bad decisions. I just Googled “lessons from failure” and came up with 323,000,000 results.*
Permission to fail has never been more prevalent. So long as you can move past the devastating effects of shame and doubt, losing almost always opens the door to at least one other opportunity.
Oh, and every hero you know, fiction or non, goes through a Black Moment in their story.
- Seth Godin struggled along in business for years before he became king of the Internet.
- Harry Potter lost his parents, godfather, and mentor, then defeated an evil wizard.
- Jim Rohn lost millions of dollars more than once, and became a tremendous speaker and motivator.
Failure is not fun in the moment. It hurts. But it makes more possible than waiting for success to find you somehow.
*I also just Googled “how to build my own lawnmower” and came up with 1,670,000 results, so we can take those big search numbers with at least one grain of salt.
Do I need to grieve?
Now, the consequences of making failure glamourous.
We have instilled in our people the sort of ram-your-head-into-a-wall-and-get-what-you-want-even-if-it-hurts-keep-pushing attitude. Men, I believe, are especially prone to this.
The only way to get over pain is more action, right?
Too often, when we cannot transform our pain into something positive, we transfer it to someone else. My old pastor said that. I think he’s onto something.
If nobody else gives you permission, I will: It is okay to be sad. It is okay to do nothing. You are allowed to wallow for a while. Cry and spit and curse and do whatever it takes.
Don’t gloss over grief when the situation demands it.
How important is this, actually?
Believe it or not, you can reach the same sort of perspective in your work without looking at the devastation in Myanmar or other atrocities in the world.
In the broad scheme of your impact, how big is the mistake you just made?
If you are in business and one mistake dominates your entire life, you need balance. You can find it immediately. When in doubt, serve. Serve your family, your friends, or a stranger.
“Okay, thanks for the sweet talk Todd, but my mistake actually IS huge.”
First, you’re probably wrong, but let’s pretend for a moment.
Maybe you did something which got you fired or shunned or jailed. When I think a mistake is end-all, be-all I remind myself of a framework laid out by business writer Suzy Welch. The 10/10/10 Rule.
- Is this going to matter in 10 minutes?
- Is this going to matter in 10 months?
- Is this going to matter in 10 years?
Answering any of those questions with “No,” and you’re good to go.
Get a yes on all three? Refer to the other questions here.
How would (insert role model here) handle this?
I heard a secret the other day about Stephen King.
He is a human being.
This means he is bound by every biological restraint I am, yet he marches on.
In the face of turmoil, I make believe I am someone else. How would Tony Robbins handle this argument with a business partner? How would my friend Ash Ali negotiate? How would Eric Thomas bounce back?
You can be anyone you want.
Hey guys, it’s Todd
Just wanted to let you know I’m giving away a BIG stack of personal development books for Christmas.
Enter to win below if you are interested :)