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I help seasoned professionals leave their ill-fitting work lives behind in order to find more aliveness, fulfillment, and ultimately, success that truly feels good. 

 

Blog

Are You Throwing in the Towel Too Soon?

Kelly Studer

Back in December, I got this idea to do a business planning retreat.  I pictured it being a small group of entrepreneurs who would come together for 3 days to play, co-create, and design what’s next in our businesses.  There would be bottomless mugs of hot coffee, slippers, inappropriate language, and “aha” moments.  This retreat was going to rock! I had a few entrepreneur friends in the Vancouver area and thought it would be a nice change of scenery to head up to Canada.  One of my friends offered to host the retreat at her gorgeous beach house.  Jackpot!  Before long, there were seven of us onboard and we’d set the date for January 18-20.

Finally, it’s Friday morning on January 17th and I wake up with a smile on my face.  I’m going to Vancouver tonight.  Yeehaw!

Well, not quite.  Around 3:00pm, I learn that my Friday evening flight was cancelled and rescheduled for 6:20pm on Saturday.  NOOOOO!!

This was a retreat that I had planned and I wouldn’t even be there for the first day.  I immediately started thinking about everything I was going to miss out on and feeling completely out of control.  If only this airline hadn’t ruined it for me…

I called my friend’s house to share the bad news and was ready to say, “Go ahead without me” when she said, “No way.  You’re still joining us tomorrow. Let’s use Google Hangout.”  Despite some initial resistance (aka feeling sorry for myself), I agreed to give it a try.

It worked like a dream.  On Saturday morning, the group set “me” up on a chair and sat around it so that I could see everyone.  We proceeded as if I was there in person.  Around 4:00pm, I signed off and headed to the airport to catch my flight. The excitement started building again knowing that I’d be there with all of them soon.

Nope.  Got all the way to the airport, was waiting at the gate to board, and the flight was cancelled again. You’ve got to be kidding me!!!  Again?  No no no no NOOOOOOO!

I was offered the wonderful option of trying again on Sunday morning for a 7:00am flight but decided to pass.  I thought the universe was trying to tell me something.  This just wasn’t meant to be.

Still in shock, I returned to my car in the long-term parking lot.  As I turned on the engine and started to back out, I burst into tears.  Then, 20 seconds later, my theme song came on (“Brave” by Sara Bareilles) and I couldn’t help but smile and laugh.  And then cried even harder.

I felt so robbed! I was flooded with feelings of disappointment, sadness, and rage. This was not how it was supposed to go.

Has this ever happened to you?  You had everything all planned out and you get served up a big ole curve ball?

The choice I ultimately made was to be a part of that retreat no matter what.  The Google Hangout had worked the day before, so why not continue to use it for the next two days?  That’s exactly what I did and it was thing of unexpected beauty.

I got my own hot mug of coffee, set myself up on my couch, and dialed in.  What came out of the next 18 hours together blew my mind.  My amazing group even brought the computer to the dinner table on Sunday night so we could eat together.  In the end, my presence and commitment was rewarded through contributing to the group and being pushed to my growing edge in my business.  The retreat exceeded my expectations even though I never made it to Vancouver.

We’re all met with circumstances out of our control that can be unbelievably disappointing and frustrating.  When I was faced with this, I realized that I could either take myself out or find a way to stay in.  There was still a choice to make.

So, why am I sharing this story with you?  I’m sharing it because it ended up being a profoundly transformative experience in my life.  I was determined to find a way to get value out of something that I thought was no longer available.  I made a conscious decision to handle myself differently.  When I made this a priority, I had an “aha” moment.

In the past, I would have let my emotions get the best of me and stayed in a bad mood for way too long. I would have found a way to blame myself while also playing victim.  I would be unwilling to forgive myself and others for a long time.  I would stew and bring a lot of negative energy.  I wouldn’t take responsibility for my impact.

This time around, I took a step back and asked myself a few questions about how I wanted to deal with this “out of my control” situation and became really curious about the answers.  Ultimately, these questions helped me make a powerful choice and saved me from throwing in the towel.

If these questions made the difference for me, then hopefully they can make a difference for you.  Here they are…

What’s the gift in this?   I used to hate when people asked me this question because I didn’t want to find the gift.  I wanted to wallow in the misery.  Yet, interestingly enough, if you really try to answer this question, you’ll discover that what’s happened isn’t as bad as you think.  You’re not going to die.  This is not life threatening, even though it might feel that way emotionally.  Go ahead and roll your eyes…and then still answer the question.  It offers a powerful way to turn your thoughts around and find possibility buried in the despair.

Who do I want to be right now and what impact do I want to make? When you ask yourself this question, it enables you to take a step back and look at yourself.  Yeah! Who do I want to be? Pissed off and yelling at people who don’t deserve it?  A crybaby and blubbering idiot? It’s important to feel your emotions and experience them.  However, this question offers you the chance to make a different choice in order to honor yourself and recognize the impact you will have on others.  Will your bad mood contribute to others?  Will letting go of your anger or sadness allow you to be more present and creative?  Decide who you want to be in this experience and this moment.  It’s totally up to you.

What do I need to do to stay in the game?    The easy thing to do is to take yourself out.  It’s easy to walk (or run) away and hide or give up altogether.  It might feel like the thing you want to do in the moment but it strips you of the opportunity to test your resilience and strength.  If there’s still time on the clock, then figure out how to keep playing.  The most successful people stay in the game despite setbacks (e.g. Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Hillary Clinton, etc.).  For me, I had to let go of my anger and resentment and check back in with why I wanted to plan this retreat in the first place.  Once I remembered my goal, my head cleared and I was able to accept my new reality and re-engage.

Life is going to hand you a shit sandwich sometimes.  Your ability to recover can be one of the most powerful ways for you to show up as a leader and live the life you desire.