Have you ever been blindsided by a professional gut punch? That gut-wrenching, “escorted out the door” kind of dismissal, where the unfairness hangs heavy in the air like unsaid accusations? I have. In the moment it happens, it can throw your world into a tailspin – if you let it. I didn’t.
Still, the sting of that experience lingers, even years later, like stale perfume. The leadership team’s utter lack of understanding, the whispers of blame swirling around a situation beyond my control – it was a masterclass in how not to treat an employee or to support what is essentially a team effort. But dwelling on the unfairness wouldn’t change a thing for me – my job was gone. So, I did what I always do: First, I found a new job, within a month, and then I dusted myself off and started looking for the lessons hidden within the rubble of my former work environment.
The biggest takeaway? Life, friends, simply isn’t fair. Yes, it’s cliché, but it’s also a hard truth. It throws curveballs (that’s an American Baseball idiom), dishes out rotten luck, and sometimes, seems to have a personal vendetta against your sanity. But here’s the thing: the only thing you truly control is your response. You can wallow in the bitterness (sadly I know people who do this), or you can choose to see the opportunity for growth.
For me, that meant recognizing the importance of open communication and trust in any organization, and especially with your immediate team.
In fact, the job I moved on to, leading a massive educational project, I witnessed firsthand how fear-based structures breed dysfunction. My leadership philosophy? Transparency, always. Create a space where open dialogue thrives, and you’ll build a team that can weather any storm, or ditch curveballs, together. Transparency: easy to say, very very difficult to implement, worth it completely.
Speaking of weathering storms, that brutal job loss wasn’t the end of my story. It was the catalyst for yet another bold move across the globe. I’d done that before. Still, parts of it were terrifying, parts exhilarating, and ultimately, still the best decision I could have made. The experience taught me that letting go is the only way to grow. Want to trap a monkey? Put a banana into a pot with a very narrow opening. They will reach in and clutch the banana. When you walk up to them, you can simply put a net over them and you have trapped your monkey – because they won’t let go of the banana to aid in their escape.
So, embrace the fall, learn from the bruises, and rise stronger than ever.
If you search in your life, you’ve probably had those “faceplant in front of the crowd” moments, too. Maybe not as brutal as my experience, but still moments when your failure was front and center.
Recently, I flubbed up a leadership workshop schedule, cramming two sessions into one, barely making it through, and definitely encroaching on the next presenter’s time. The egg on my face was definitely hard boiled at that moment!
But here’s the thing: I owned it.
I apologized immediately, adjusted my content for future workshops, and vowed to be more time-conscious (not to mention eternally grateful to the presenter I nearly trampled).
Remember, mistakes are inevitable. It’s how you handle them that defines you.
So, how do you navigate the unfairness, the mistakes, the curveballs, and the monkey traps life throws your way? I have a simple tool: a two-column worksheet. Head one column “Things I Can Control” and the other “Things I Cannot Control.” Or it could be a circle inside a circle with “Can” inside and “Can’t”. Every time you face a challenge or a decision or a moment where trust and teamwork and transparency need to be front and center, fill in the blanks. Focus your energy on the controllable column or circle, where you can take action, learn, reflect, make new plans, and grow. Let go of the uncontrollable, because obsessing over it won’t change a thing, and you won’t escape whatever guilt, shame, or negative result that came from something outside of your control.
Life may not be fair, it isn’t, but you are always in control of your response. So, practice instead growth, resilience, and a healthy dose of “it’s-not-personal” when faced with the inevitable curveballs.
Here’s another cliché, that is true, nevertheless: The best journeys often begin with the roughest terrain.
Now, go out there, stumble on the trail and pay heed to the Japanese Proverb 七転び八起き (nanakorbi yaoki) – “Fall down seven times, stand up eight” and write your own story, one lesson learned at a time.