Using What You've Got

It's the biggest day of your life with only a few hours to spare before the project/performance/event/test that will define your life and career for the foreseeable future. And all of a sudden the bottom drops out. You lost your main investor, your voice is too shot to sing the solo or the zombie apocalypse inconveniently starts right before you take the stage. Whatever's happening, it's not good and you are starting to panic. Adrenaline courses through your body and your brain starts screaming that everything is falling down around you and it's just not going to work.

This might not be ideal for most people, but with the right kind of mindset this is a pretty great place to find yourself.

I'm a planner (sometimes obsessively so), but I am constantly working to incorporate and appreciate the unexpected into my life and my projects. When everything is known before it happens, life becomes a dull and drab march towards the inevitable (if you don't believe me, read a variety of philosophical and fictional works on the necessity of free will and the harshness of predetermined life). When surprise drops in on us, it's up to us whether we swing into contingency plans and improvisation or if we panic and crumble.

While it can seem appealing to fall apart when things get rough, it's so much more important to feel that panic and then let it go. Emotions are important and key to our shared humanity. But emotions can also hold you captive and force you to act without rational thought. When things start to go south and that dreadful, creeping feeling of failure comes upon you, it's important to remember that you should feel it -- but you shouldn't let it control you.   

When panic sets in, feel it and learn from it. Diagnose the pain point that pushed the adrenaline into your system, harness the nervous energy that's running through your veins and make your fear work for you. Your fear is important and instinctual. Your fear is telling you something key that you might be overlooking. But fear isn't smart. Fear is indiscriminate and it will cripple you if you let it. When panic sets in, feel it and then let it wash through you.

After your panic washes through you, take a look at what's happening. If you're lucky, the insurmountable from a moment ago is suddenly just an opportunity to grow and change with the times. You had a backup of that irreplaceable item, or someone can pull double duty behind the scenes. It's not always that simple to fix a plan that starts to pull apart at the seams, but it doesn't need to be if you accept that you might have to adjust things on the fly and that the unexpected breathes new life into the staid.

The most important thing you can do to be successful in the face of the unexpected, in my opinion at least, is to always think ahead and build out contingencies when you can. You aren't planning for the exact thing that could go wrong, but you are preparing yourself for the idea of change. You are practicing and building a process where things can evolve with their surroundings to stay fresh and relevant. It might seem counterintuitive, but a good plan always includes the idea of "going with the flow" so that you don't trap yourself in panic when your world rapidly changes. 

Nothing fun or important or innovative ever came from staying in your comfort zone, which are easy words to say and exhilarating words to live by.   

Taking Chances and Making Mistakes

One of the biggest challenges in the world is to gracefully take responsibility for a mistake. This is the case for personal errors and organizational ones. How we deal with mistakes in our lives can be the difference between personal happiness, getting that new job,  making a relationship work and getting off the phone with IT feeling like you accomplished something.

On a personal level, I always advocate taking responsibility when you should, even when it isn't your fault. If your partner is having a rough day and it's easier for you to take the blame on something inconsequential -- do it. If your little brother forgot to take out the trash or walk the dog and he just can't handle being yelled at -- take the blame and make sure he learns his lesson. You don't want to create a situation where someone cant take care of themselves, but it's also an issue of just moving things along in life. If it's not a big deal and you know it doesn't really matter, then be the hero. Note: this does not apply for huge problems! If your younger sister is getting arrested that she definitely did and you know it -- probably let her take the wrap. 

On an organizational level, I believe that pretty much every mistake (within reason) made by an employee should be assigned to their manager and every accomplishment should be shared out from management on down. In other words, a good manager takes responsibility for the team's errors and pushes any accolades for themselves to their team as a whole. A good manager trains and coordinates people in a way that sets them up for success -- and readjusts when that isn't the case.

Most importantly, everyone should learn from a mistake, not just the person who made it. Assigning responsibility isn't anywhere near as important as avoiding the mistake in the future. First, you need to figure out what went wrong and why. Then assess how you can take your current situation and transforming it into where you want to be. Can you skip the mistake the next time by short circuiting the steps that didn't work? Then do it!

Everyone messes up, but not everyone is able to recover from an error without losing their cool. And, at least in my opinion, losing your cool is basically the worst thing you can do after a mistake happens. How does freaking out, yelling, panicking or making any type of scene really help the situation? 

My solution? Don't panic and remember that everyone who takes chances also makes mistakes and gets messy. And if you aren't taking risks, then you might want to start -- risk taking is important for personal growth, innovation, creativity and happiness!