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SUCCESS CARD 7: Embrace Change & Allow Failure

Embrace Change

Change is like the weather. No climate on earth is totally predictable. When you were little and a rainy day ruined your play, your mother said to you, "Cheer up. You can't do anything about the weather." You'd go outside and splash in puddles or play inside with your blocks. Now that you're bigger, are you still able to cheer up when change ruins how you want to play? Do you adapt as quickly? Change is often unpredictable, so your best choice is to embrace it as your mother taught you. Turn a cloudy, rainy day into opportunity.

"I observed and positioned."

Though my degree is in management, and it's all I ever wanted to do, I needed technical skills to get my foot in the door in the insurance industry, so I took twenty-one hours of computer science. I came to the company with the intention of doing systems development work. I did that for seven years, but I worked hard to get the management role I had always wanted. I gained an understanding of the people I worked with. Also, I was working with information security and, in learning a significant amount of specialized administration, I became the only person who knew what was going on. I convinced the company to promote me and get a technician to replace me so they wouldn't have to be dependent on me for everything. I also knew that I didn't want to get overspecialized.

Well, I got promoted to be an information security manager with about six reports. I positioned myself to manage other areas so I could advance and make more money. At one point I managed ten people. But, after a significant layoff due to a political change, I saw technicians in high demand while managers were scrambling to keep their jobs. In fact, one of our managers who was laid off ended up selling me a life insurance policy from a competing company. I bought it because he needed the work and I needed a good policy. Still on the job, I worked to develop expertise in our new email system. Now, I'm an expert technician in this area. I don't manage others anymore, and I really think management is the harder job.

Clay, technical consultant providing email for a large insurance company

Transitions at work and in life cause some people to spin out of control, but other people such as Clay don't let that happen. In fact, one trait of a successful executive is to manage change and transitions well. You don't have to be an executive, though, to do what Clay did: to observe what's going on around you, make mental notes, and come up with a personal plan to get you through. Listen to and learn from your observations. Do you feel you are working harder but accomplishing less? Are you getting more irritable, angry, and short tempered with people around you? Do you feel more cynical about your life or work? On the other hand, are you energized and positively challenged by the unpredictability of each day? Does a change in the status quo add interest to your life? Are you ready to take on new activities?

If you're out of work and want to be employed, you're probably an active soul searcher; change is a part of your day now. You're considering things that you may not have considered before. If you're a Baby Boomer, you may be feeling a bit like a "has-been." Maybe it's just time for your "second calling," and, if so, you can follow the lead of many who've found happiness in second careers later in life. John Mahoney, a Steppenwolf theater, television (Frazier), and movie actor, began acting in his thirties. Grandma Moses started painting in her eighties. Student teachers can be any age.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, in his classic book, The Power of Positive Thinking,[1] interviewed many everyday people who overcame adversity. Each person had a story to tell about a lesson learned on how being positive and having strong beliefs changed his or her life. Over the years, many of their lessons have developed into well-known adages, for example, "If you expect the best, you will get the best."2 Before the word self-talk was widely used as an internal technique to help people build confidence, Dr. Peale was building his case against defeatism. He encouraged people to see that unexpected change is not insurmountable; he helped them take control of their lives and embrace change with specific actions. Well worth reading, Dr. Peale's book has sold seven million copies and is still available in paper, hardcover, audio CD, and cassette.

Juana's Move The first day on the job surrounded by English-speaking customer service reps, landscape architects, and wealthy customers was overwhelming to Juana. She smiled a lot, said little, and listened as hard as she could. Once, in the ladies room, she wiped back nervous tears and bravely walked back on the customer service floor where she resumed her training. At lunchtime, she called home, reveling in the soft Spanish tones of her mother who lived with the family. She heard the pride in her mother's voice when she talked about her new job. That soft voice soothed her through the rest of the day.

Juana faced extreme change: a full-time position in an environment with a different language. Even though she doubted her ability, she was doing many things right. She committed to a job with an early morning schedule in spite of her young family; she arrived early for training and kept a smile on her face, although inwardly she was losing confidence. Calling her mother was a good idea; it reinforced her family's support, but Juana can keep working to maintain her self-esteem without checking in at home. After all, she was an A student in computer science in high school. She should give herself credit for being able to learn the new system, keeping in mind that the experienced workers have just used it longer.

Most stress in your life is caused internally—by your own perceptions of and reactions to life's events. Only a handful of major life crises—death, injury, illness—are external stressors. In other words, your judgment of a situation is what creates most of your stress. Managing your response to life's challenges takes discipline and often lots of self-talk so that you can keep them in perspective.

"I talked to myself and others."

In a one-and-a-half-year period, I lost four key people in my life. My mother died, then my husband, of pancreatic cancer; his mother died the day of his funeral, and my father-in-law died five months later. I'm a firm believer in reaching out for any kind of help that is available, and so, during that time, I attended the support groups of the Cancer Wellness Center and my church and got professional help with stress and depression. Talking to my friends was a much-needed connection to my husband. They'd say something like, "Boy, if Stuart could see the mess you've made with your checkbook," and I would have to laugh. I talked to myself all the time. I would say things like, "Life is going to go on with you or without you; you can either be out of the picture or go on. The world is going to go on." People say things like, "Time goes quickly," and "Life is short," and now I know it really does and it really is.

Today, I'm more impulsive. I've been to Tahiti, swimming with Beluga whales, hiking the Canadian Rockies, and I'm planning a trip to the Southern Arctic—things I may not have done before. It helps to have something to look forward to: a concert, a play, something on the calendar. I remind myself every day that I don't have the right to feel sorry for myself. I am able to feel more compassionate toward others now.

Jean, operations manager of a medical specialty practice

Though you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of change in your life, you can take action to accept it. Rather than hold on to the past, you can let go and move on, like Clay, Juana, and Jean did. Each found ways to live positively while facing major change.

Allow Failure

When people are asked what they've learned most in life, they'll frequently say things such as, "I wish I'd committed to my passion sooner" or "I shouldn't have listened to the people who said, I couldn't do it." If you are employed, you know that in your job, you are constantly being evaluated. If you aren't employed, others judge you on a daily basis in different ways: What are you doing with your life? Do they agree with what you're doing? How do you measure up? People will always judge other people; it's in their human nature to do so. It helps them make sense of the world. It's a given: You will fail to measure up to someone else's expectations at some point. That's all right. If you want to be better at failing, you simply have to adjust your attitude.

"I struck out before I got the home run."

As a professional speaker, I'm evaluated on every speech I give. It's part of a meeting planner's job, understandably, to conduct evaluations of the speakers they hire. For large conferences, they rank all of the speakers to provide a summary report for their meeting client. The rankings are mailed to us also. It's always a little nerve racking opening that envelope to see how you did. Once, after speaking to a conference with fifty-three other pre-senters, I received the mailing. I opened it and stared at it with horror and disbelief. I had given two presentations and one of them was ranked fifty-fourth—last place! The other was also in the bottom half. After reality settled in, I called the client and offered his money back; he refused, attempting to assure me that it was just the wrong topic fit for the group. But I was disheartened. I was an experienced professional, not a beginner. As a speaker, you have to have guts to keep going; but I just couldn't find anything good in that experience. When my next booking arrived, I was more nervous than usual; it was an annual meeting for two hundred employees, and I was being videotaped as well. I listened to the president introduce me, took a deep breath, and plunged in. Happily, the speech went well; people laughed when I hoped they would and interacted when I asked. Afterward, the client telephoned me. I held my breath. She said, "Celeste, there were absolutely no bad evaluations for you; we've never had that happen with a speaker. You were a 'home run.' A home run! Amazingly, the fifty-fourth ranking and the home run happened within thirty days of each other.

Celeste, professional speaker

Perhaps you've heard the adage, "He who never makes a mistake probably isn't doing anything." Top salespeople don't close every prospect; top athletes don't win every game. Certainly top speakers aren't always ranked number one. People who are able to allow failure in their lives without being paralyzed by it are busy people. They have so many places to go and so many things to try!

One of the most difficult things parents do is watch their children fail at something, but lessons learned from failure are some of the most meaningful ones. The same is true for adults. Failures should be seen as gifts. Great things can come from failure—character development, self-confidence, and innovation. Mistakes are often big wins in disguise.

"I played on."

All throughout my childhood, I took piano lessons at our community's music conservatory. Just about every weekend, there was a recital of some kind in the concert hall. At age 12, I was playing in a piano recital along with other students, when I experienced one of those character-building events that I will never forget. I was slogging through Chopin's "Minute Waltz," taking considerably more time than the composer had intended, when my mind went completely blank. I froze right in the middle section of the piece, with no clue as to what my fingers should do next. I sat there, alternating between staring at the piano keys and replaying the previous few bars. My parents, of course, were in the audience; and, in this large hall packed with other parents, grandparents, and siblings, the silence was overwhelming. I felt myself getting angry because my father was not jumping to his feet and coming to my rescue with the music, which he was holding in his lap for just such an emergency. He let me crash and burn in public and I was embarrassed and humiliated. But seeing that my only other option was to run out of the hall, I kept taking a stab at the piano, trying to find a way out of my dilemma. I eventually hooked on to some later part of the piece, which ultimately got me to the end. I don't remember walking back down the center aisle, but I'm sure everyone applauded, at least out of sympathy. I walked right out of the hall and outside the building with my father close behind. At this point, I completely broke down. As we walked, he let me vent my tears, anger, and embarrassment. But then, he told me what a good job I'd done, and how proud he was of me. He explained how important it was for me not to be rescued, to persevere and get myself out of the tough spot. I have never forgotten that lesson.

Joan, retail store manager and amateur pianist


William's Move William soon discovered that IT projects were competitive events. He often sat in heated project meetings with his colleagues, each trying to be the best programmer on the project. As the team leader, William was positioned to manage the team so that all members looked good. It was the perfect opportunity to attain the high achievement standards expected by his family. His parents would want to be proud. There was little room for failure, even though this was his first real job. He worked day to day for perfection, cherishing the few words of congratulations from his new boss on a job well done. Then one day after a grueling week of deadlines for a high-maintenance client, William entered some essential information incorrectly, sending the entire project in the wrong direction. His team rebelled; what little loyalty there had been vanished, and William was called to the boss's office. As he walked down the hall, he was already agonizing over how to explain his impending demotion to his parents. Surprisingly, the busy boss gave William a quick reprimand, asked him to correct the error, and thanked him for coming. The world did not end. William returned to his cubicle, vowing never again to be hammered by a mistake. For the first time, he realized that failure was part of work life.

If you've ever been in a position similar to William's, you know what it's like to try to avoid anger and panic in the face of failure. You don't want to be like other people you know who whine, blame others, and refuse to own up to the problem, but it's difficult to admit a mistake. During these times, it's important to remember that, in spite of a poor decision or an error, you're still a good person who overall does well. You're a good employee, a good spouse, and a good parent. Whatever your overall goodness role is—give yourself credit.
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