Have you ever been in an uncomfortable or awkward situation? Of course you have. You know, those moments where you wish you could just pull a Homer and disappear into the bushes to avoid it all? Sometimes it's not the awkward situation that is the worst, but those bad ones that are unavoidable. That conversation that you have to have with your boss or the break-up that is long past-due with that girlfriend or boyfriend. What about those times when you're on the receiving end of those moments and they are unexpected? Isn't that the worst?! I've been thinking about this for a while lately, and it seems to me that the saying is true –life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. Our responses to tough situations in our lives is the absolute key to joy, happiness, and peace.
It was February and I was taking a trip back to Detroit from Dallas. I was lucky enough to be on a Southwest Airlines flight. Lucky because they are literally the best, of course. From their excellent customer service to the freedom they give you to pick your own seats, they are my favorite!
When I fly I usually take time to knock out some chapters in whatever book I'm reading. However, this particular time I had left my book in my checked luggage and was book-less. Looking for something to occupy my time, I reached into the seat pocket and found the latest issue of the Southwest magazine. On the front, a picture of Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines. Herb had passed away just one month earlier from his twenty year battle with prostate cancer. This issue was a tribute to him. Little did I know, this man was unbelievable. I read the majority of the tribute article on the flight.
One of the stories that fascinated me in the article was one that started in the Southwest marketing department. In the early 1990's they introduced the slogan, "Just Plane Smart". After using the slogan for a year or so, officials from Stevens Aviation, an aircraft sales and maintenance company, protested that they had already been using the phrase, "Plane Smart", and it seemed that a lawsuit was imminent.
However, instead of fighting in the courtroom, Herb and Kurt Herwald, the Chairman of Stevens, came up with a solution: an arm-wrestling competition for the rights to the slogan.
So, Herb rented out an arena, gave employees time off so they could attend, and turned the entire event into a low-brow, high-comedy showdown worthy of the professional wrestlers who joined him in the ring. The event was called the "Malice in Dallas" between "Smokin'Herb" and "Killer Kurt".
In the end, Kurt won the competition but then said that Southwest could use the slogan after all. The companies raised $15,000 for charity and both got more publicity than they could have imagined. Want to talk about turning a potentially bad situation into a good one!
Step Back and Think
Crazy situations will happen in life, there's no way to avoid it. You might get laid off, you're going to get sick, someone is going to get mad at you, you're debit card is going to decline even though you have money in your account. No matter what kind of situation comes at you, if you'll take a breath, step back and think, you'll always come up with a better solution than if you didn't.
Responding with emotion can feel good sometimes, but that good feeling is usually followed by regret. If you find yourself in a tough situation or conversation and you want to respond quickly, I can tell you from personal experience that that is not the best thing to do. If you have the ability to take time before you respond, even if that means asking the person if you can talk more about it later, that's always going to be the better situation.
But, what do you do if you don't have that luxury? What if a response is needed immediately?
I remember one time I worked for an organization that I really enjoyed. The job was fun and the people were great. They told me that I had to be at work at 8:00 every day, which I was totally down with. However, on my first day I was there fifteen minutes early and at 8:00 I had to stand outside and wait for someone to come unlock the door. The other employees casually came in between 8-8:30. I didn't think much of it until it started happening every day. I was given a key to the building since I was always waiting outside for someone else. After the first month I started to think that the culture was a little bit more relaxed than was communicated to me, so I started doing what most folks were doing, showing up right at 8 or a little after.
One day, my boss popped into my office and asked to speak with me. I went into his office and he shut the door. After five minutes of telling me how much he enjoyed me being at the company, he said, "we've noticed that you don't care much about being on time, so I'm sad to say, today is your last day with us..." To say that I was shocked is an understatement. I just sat there and stared at him for a second. I wanted to respond with anger. I wanted to tell him how wrong he was. I wanted to jump up, say a few words and walk out the door and never look back. I took about thirty seconds and said things like, "wow..." "okay..." "well..." (all filler words) while I was trying to process the fact that I just got fired for doing what everyone else was clearly doing.
I finally said, "Let's step back and talk about this for a second." I proceeded to tell him my perspective on why I had done what I had done. I apologized for assuming that it was more of a relaxed atmosphere than was communicated. I also pointed out that I had stayed late many times to finish projects and that I worked really hard at my job. I asked him if there were any room for mercy or grace in this situation, especially since this was the first time he had brought it to my attention.
His response surprised me. He said, "Well, this was unexpected. In all my time here, I've never had someone talk me out of firing them." He gave me a probationary period to correct the issues –which I did. A few months later I had a wonderful opportunity arise elsewhere and I left with a full-fledged celebration –cake, balloons, Starbucks gift cards and hugs. All because I made a strong, hard decision to not respond with emotion but to have a solid conversation based off of truth and facts.
When you walk into a room of people, you have three basic options: Set the temperature of the room, match it, or leave.
I'm not sure what it is, but I just can't be around folks where are negative. If you have this overwhelming feeling to point out all the bad or potentially harmful parts of a situation, you and I won't be talking much. There are people that I've worked really hard to help them see the positive in life, to notice the silver lining, and somehow it all ends up bad still. I love them, but I don't hang out with those people anymore.
There are folks in my life that sometimes get in a funk. I mean, if we are honest, we all do. I really enjoy changing people's perspective on a situation. Taking time to find the good and making that the focus. Folks who roll with me on things like that are usually people I like to kick it with. These kind of people are in touch with reality but can see the vision.
The kind of people I try to surround myself with, however, are folks who not only see the dream and vision, but push it beyond it's limits. Screaming possibility and joy at every turn. Finding people that challenge me and point out when I'm maybe not seeing all the good in a situation are the folks that I want to be around the most.
Here's the thing, life is going to be full of uncomfortable situations, how we decide to respond to them is 100% the key to happiness. Joy is not an emotion, it's a choice. Make a decision that as much as possible, you're going to have good vibes only.
Until next time,