The Maraia Minutes


Dealing With Major Shocks and Setbacks

Vol. 14 Issue 3

It is not uncommon in our work as coaches to find clients who have had something tragic or unwelcome happen to them.  The loss of a major client, the boss who makes your life intolerable, the lack of a bonus, getting de-equitized, and the failure to win major business are all examples.  The list of possible disappointments is as large as the population itself.   And they can happen on a daily basis. 

I’d like to share with you what I share with my clients when they experience a major setback:  You can’t erase the past and undo the event or experience that caused you angst.  However, you are completely at choice about how you’ll respond or react to what’s happened.  There are many things in life we can’t control.  The weather is an obvious one.  What you CAN control are your reactions to the weather. 

1. What you can’t control.

Sorry to break this news to you but here is the blunt truth: You can’t control the events that happen in the world around you.  You can’t control what the people around you do nor can you control what they say.  We seem to be constantly bombarded with people, situations, and events that disturb our peace of mind.  Trying to control them is a losing battle sure to leave you feeling discouraged, defeated, and perhaps, depressed.  So my advice to you is this:  Stop trying to control it!  Instead, change your thinking about what it means. 

2. What can you control? 

You can’t control what happens, but you can control your reactions to what happens to you or another.  This is the most profound truth I have discovered in my life.  For me, it was THE major turning point in my life.  I’ve been operating with this simple truth for over two decades and can report being profoundly happier (and more peaceful) as it increasingly becomes a habit of thought or a way of thinking. 

Let me share with you a recent experience that happened while speaking at a conference of lawyers in Sao Paulo, Brazil in late March.  The conference was held during my son’s spring break, so I had the pleasure of having Matt, a junior in high school, join me for the trip, and we had great fun.  Turns out that, while we were having fun working with this group of Latin American lawyers, three of my son’s “friends” were having their own brand of fun in my home.  They had gotten in using the garage code.  My son had given it to one of them several months ago to retrieve an item they’d left behind.  One of them had remembered the four digits in the garage code (but not the sequence), and after five minutes of playing around with the sequence, they got in. 

We initially thought three boys were involved, and their story was they were only in my home for three hours on Friday morning.  Soon after returning to the US, I met with the three boys and tried to impress upon them that, while telling the truth is painful, not telling the truth is much more painful.  They proceed to tell us a cover story to protect themselves and the others involved.  As the full truth emerged over the next week, I learned that they had stayed there for two nights and there were a total of eight kids who were in my home unlawfully.  I was running a free B & B for teenagers and didn’t know it! 

Needless to say, there were many events happening that I couldn’t control.  To fully explain all the twists and turns of this drama would require a book.  One of the boys showed a brazen lack of respect toward me even after we discovered his made up story. However, I kept applying the idea from this article throughout the ordeal. Could I control these kids breaking into my home?  Nope, but I had a choice about how to react.  Could I control these kids lying to me?  Nope.  However, I was totally at choice about my reaction to their lying.  Could I control parental reactions to what their kids had done?  Nope.  However, I was totally at choice about my reaction to their sometime bizarre behavior.   Everyone around me felt I had justification for being angry and urged me to press charges, but I didn’t see any useful purpose in getting angry.  [Note: I’m not saying I never get angry.  I do.  I just don’t waste energy trying to justify it any more.  The net result or benefit is that I move through the anger very quickly.]

It became very clear to me early in this process that three of these boys were (in their own twisted way) asking for help.  So I responded from a place of concern and caring, not anger.  That was the choice I made in a very difficult situation. This approach had a profound and positive effect on the parents.  I went from not knowing any of them to building a very strong relationship in record time.  In the end, I chose not to press criminal charges against any of them.  They are doing community service and other things to make amends.  They’ve learned some profound and valuable life lessons from their experience.  As I told one father, his son has provided my son with a textbook lesson in what NOT to do.  My 17-year-old son, who was already wise beyond his years, has seen accelerated growth into adulthood. 

Perhaps you have had a similar life experience that is highly instructive.  If so, I’d love to hear YOUR story.