A business friend and I get together every month or so to talk shop. As I drove to our usual meeting spot, I noticed that my attitude towards our meeting was lacking enthusiasm. I had a bit of dread thinking about the next 60-90 minutes, so I paused to reflect on what had changed.
Ahh COVID. We all had to adjust, learn and reconsider during the early days and most of my business friends came through with more resilience than they thought they had and with a new ability to adapt to change. This was not the case with the friend I was about to meet and it was impacting my desire to spend time with him.
I took a few minutes to think about our first get-together once COVID was a known entity. He had been frightened, had used those words. We talked about what was in versus out of his control and I remembered thinking that he was rejecting that conversation – choosing, instead, to focus on his anger and fear. He kept blaming and finger-pointing and wanted ‘someone to pay’.
When he got PPP money, his mood changed for a bit. He told me he bought a lake house and a boat. A few months later when we met up, he began to complain about all the changes and kept saying ‘I just want things to go back to how they were.’ I got it. I had my moments too, but noticed and worked on being more like the leaders I admired who embraced the change and saw it as opportunity. They had a very different mindset than my friend who was really struggling to see any upside other than his new purchases.
What can we do with past experiences? I think we can learn from them and shape them to serve us or we can linger in them and not grow, change or improve. I have made so many mistakes and I learn from all of them. I learn what to do differently, more of, less of and all kinds of other things that help me with my next challenge.
I wonder if the ability to learn versus linger is an acquired trait or pre-wiring. I decided to ask my friend this to see if he was open to that conversation instead of the one I was worried that I was about to walk into – one that was more of a victim mentality.
So, when we had our food and were settled, I asked him and I got my answer.
Me: Do you think that people come pre-wired to appreciate and learn from bad luck and mistakes versus constantly reliving them in a way that supports more of a negative attitude and victim mentality. (Yes, I own that that question was leading and showed my opinion).
Him: Seriously? You think that being all Pollyanna is going to change anything? If we just roll over and let things happen, we lose all that we’ve created, the processes, the procedures, our corporate culture!
Me: There was a time that it was standard operating procedure not to promote women; if that hadn’t changed, I wouldn’t be sitting here as a CEO.
Him: That’s different. I’m talking about letting people work remotely when we’ve invested in office space. I can’t get that money back, so we need to use the space whether people like it or not.
Me: If you didn’t have the lease that you do, would your opinion be different?
Him: Of course. But I do. You are always talking about facts and the importance of data gathering before you make a decision. Well, the fact is that I have a lease that is locked in for five more years at $250k a year and I’m going to use the space.
Me: What if some of your people, people who are doing their jobs but remotely, leave.
Him: Let them.
He then spent about 20 minutes re-living his experience during COVID, all with a negative attitude, not able or willing to share anything he had learned that served him from that experience. I was exhausted and wanted him to stop his diatribe. I kept thinking about The Arbinger Institute’s book Outward Mindset and tried to put myself in his shoes, tried to see things from his perspective.
Me: I’m sorry this has been so frustrating. I wish I had an answer. Is there anything I can do to help?
Him, smiling: Thanks for letting me go on and on. We are wired differently and I am not ready to accept that things will never be the same even though all of my business friends, especially you, keep telling me to accept the new normal.
Me: I am not telling you to do that, but I am saying that looking at the situation as one that hurt you instead of figuring out how it helped you grow as a leader has you re-telling this story over and over without any sense that you want to let it be of service to you.
Him: Do I tell the same story a lot?
Me: Yep. I’ll keep listening, but it’s hard and exhausting.
Him, clearly thinking deeply: You are not the first person to tell me that I do that, tell the stories repeatedly.
We ate for a moment in silence, both reflecting silently and then changed the topic to our families. As we got up to leave my friend put a hand on my shoulder.
Him: Are we good for next month? Same bat time, same bat place?
Him: I’m going to do some work between now and then and come with at least one thing I learned during COVID that has helped me, just for you.
Me: I can’t wait. But I think you’ll find out that doing so will be a gift to you more than to me.
When we linger and languish on bad experiences without being open and willing to think about how those experiences serve us, we can get caught in a never-ending loop of victimhood. On the other hand, when we take time to consider how the experience served us, made us better, then we can move on and view every experience as one there to teach us.
I’ll try to remember to write about our next meeting and hope that I get to share that he is experiencing that there is learning, even in the tough stuff.
– Becky Sharpe, CEO