Before I started my first business, I had an exciting career in the intelligence services. I worked with some of the most brilliant people I will ever know, got to do some really meaningful work, and lived in parts of the world that I would never have seen otherwise.
Early in that career, I was one-third of a team that designed and led a project that was going to be delivered to some very high-level officials. And when it came time to choose the team who would brief these officials, a supervisor a few levels above me decided that at 27 I was too young, so sent someone more senior (though less qualified) in my place. I was devastated.
And for the longest time I took it personally. I interpreted it as another injustice in a line of injustices that had robbed me of well-deserved accolades and hard-worked-for opportunities that meant so very much to me. And I carried an element of I-won’t-get-what-I-deserve-so-what’s-the-point-in-trying-anyway defeatism deep within me for years.
But the thing I realized with time and distance, is that how we interpret what happens to us is entirely up to us. And things can mean everything or nothing or something in between depending on the story we choose to tell ourselves.
That missed opportunity with those officials? I took it as another example of what I saw as a pattern of robbed rewards. But I could so easily have looked at it in a less-charged way: as just one data point of how the world works, but a data point that had nothing to do with me and nothing to do with my deservedness.
My friends, in our businesses and in our lives, so many things will go “wrong” or turn out in ways that take no notice of our best efforts. Investors will act like jerks. Co-founders will suddenly get selfish. Product launches will fail. Suppliers will ignore us. Team members will abuse the responsibility we entrust them with. And reality will take liberties with our timescales and targets.
But how we internalize or interpret each of these things is entirely up to us. We can view them for what they often are (just a normal part of business) or as an indication of personal unworthiness or a “fated” failing.
I’m not saying that we become delusional in the face of negative feedback or that we absolve ourselves of responsibility for what happens. What I am saying is that we take ultimate responsibility for how we interpret those things and that we choose carefully how we respond – externally and emotionally – when “bad” things happen. Not everything means what we think it means. And sometimes $hit just happens, whether we “deserve” it or not.
We get to decide what things mean. We get to pick up – or leave on the floor – the damaging interpretations that will keep us and our businesses small.
And we get to choose how we internalize – or not – everything that happens as we take our businesses and ourselves to the heights we know we can achieve.