Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Giant Ice Ball

Do you ever have one of those days where you can't seem to do anything right? I just did. Today seemed like a never-ending case of brain lock, with client issues, grad school, bills, you name it. If there was a way to do something stupid with anyone, I was certainly able to figure it out.

Thankfully no major harm was done. Even more thankfully, I am not beating myself up about it. For one thing, I just came off the road and often have a day or two of brain freeze afterward. For another, I've been incredibly busy, which is always music to the ears of any self-employed person, but it also means that, well, I've been incredibly busy. And finally, I'm human like everyone else.

Which leads me to an important communications skills issue: what do you tell yourself when you mess up? And what do you tell others when they mess up?

According to psychologists, we construct reality from the words we choose. Tell yourself you are a failure and, by golly, you are one. Look in the mirror and say you are the greatest, and you're right again. You see, your subconscious cannot differentiate between real experiences and imagined ones, and so it hangs on your every word.

So, against that backdrop, here is one of the greatest things I've ever heard - something I've been telling myself (and occasionally others) ever since:

First, the context. Back in the 80s I once accepted a job offer and then almost immediately had cold feet. It brought my homesick wife back East, but aspects of the work itself were far out of my comfort zone. But I sucked it up and moved there. And then, two weeks before I was supposed to start, got offered another job out of the blue that I was much more comfortable with. So now, here I was going from office to office at the first company, with my tail between my legs, explaining my decision to everyone.

Many of these people were not happy, and understandably so. Some gravely intoned how disappointed they were. Some were subdued. Some were clearly upset - like the person who lost a hiring bonus for attracting me. But then I finally got to the office of one of the company founders, and his words have stuck with me ever since:

"Rich, I believe in the giant ice ball theory. Thousands of years from now, the world will turn into a giant ice ball, and no one will care about any of this. Good luck at your new job."

He was right. Today, a quarter-century later, the world still hasn't turned into a giant ice ball yet, but no one cares anymore.

Today that ice ball is one of my best friends. Last year I was on the losing end of a contract bid that would have set me up nicely for years. This year a new interpretation of state law threw a major monkey wrench into my graduate clinical work. And I had a serious auto accident that smashed up my relatively new car. How did I react to all of these things? A lot better than you might think. In fact, in each of these cases I said "darn" briefly, and then reflected on how good I really have it and went back to work.

Same goes with many of the routine frustrations that come with my line of work, from late payments to cancelled flights. I'm not always perfect, but most of the time people are surprised to find that I'm not really upset with them when things go wrong. Why? Because I have a giant ice ball in my back pocket.

So try the giant ice ball on for size with your own situations. See how you feel, and see where it leads you. I'll bet life will become a lot cooler in more ways than one.