Keeping Perspective When Things Go Wrong

Keeping Perspective When Things Go Wrong

Recently, while driving past a motel that is used to temporarily house low-income families, I noticed a small wreath that had been hung on the door of one of the units. It stood out because it was a bright spot on such a dull structure. I couldn’t help but wonder who had put it there. A mother trying to make the place  more cheerful for her children over the holidays?  A widow who came across a box of old decorations?  A single person trying to keep his spirits up?

The image and the effort were a testament to people who make the best of a bad situation, people who don’t give up or give in when faced with difficult circumstances. On the other hand, it can be so easy to be negative and to complain about life’s difficulties and about life being unfair. This sometimes causes us to lose all perspective.

Perspective is an asset in both our personal and professional lives, but it can sometimes be hard to find and maintain. Think how often you blow things out of proportion at work—whether a disagreement with a colleague, having to redo a report, or not getting that promotion. You may blame others, or yourself, or both. You may be angry, embarrassed, or depressed. In instances like these, what can you do to assure a more appropriate reaction and get yourself back on the correct perspective track?

Debriefing with a trusted colleague  or having a direct discussion with your supervisor may be useful. A mentor or a career coach can often help you decide if the issue is actually a career roadblock or simply a temporary setback.

Then there are the tricks you probably learned in high school or college. Start with the worst case scenario—what’s the worst that could happen?  Your report has to be redone, and you now realize you were using some old data. That’s fixable and you can have it done by Monday.

Or you can use the “Method of Five” to put something in perspective. How important will this issue be in five days, five months, or five years?  For example, in five days, the disagreement with your colleague will have resolved itself. Perhaps there will be another promotion opportunity in the near future, but the lost promotion can have a long-term impact on your career and income. If the odds are good that you won’t have advanced to the next level in five months or five years, it might be time to think seriously about finding a new job.

While we all view our own problems subjectively, we don’t have to accept our first impressions, assessments, or feelings. Taking another look and trying to be more objective may be the key you need to resolve the issue, or, at least, to put it behind you. And, like that wreath on the motel door, always keep your perspective positive.

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