“I’m gonna get that son-of-a-bi…!”
That was me ten years ago towards the end of one of our first projects in my then-fledgling real estate business. We had just finished a huge gut renovation and it kept becoming clear that the contractor we had used had messed up pretty much everything he touched.
The brand-new showers in the brand-new bathrooms fluctuated from scalding hot to freezing cold because he mis-plumbed the pipes. The brand-new sockets in the brand-new bedrooms didn’t work because he hadn’t connected any wires to them (!!!). The brand-new kitchen cupboard fell off the brand-new kitchen wall because he hadn’t used the right fixings. And the brand-new tiles were falling off the backing boards in the brand-new bathrooms because he hadn’t used the right adhesive.
The situation was terrible, and I felt hopeless and powerless and angry. Oh, so very, very, very angry.
But sadly, the revenge I was desperate for had to wait. I had a house to finish, tenants to find, and a job to do. And being angry and wanting revenge were not helping me do that.
So what did I do? Well, after stewing and fuming and cursing (for a good few days), I focused on what I could control: I found new tradespeople, fixed everything that needed fixing, changed the locks on the doors, reported the builder to the relevant trade bodies, and got the house to where it needed to be. I found great tenants and got a strong re-valuation, but my revenge never came. (In the end – and with many relapses along the way – I eventually moved on from wanting the builder to meet the wrong end of a sharp stick. As one of my favorite sayings goes: “Carrying a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”.)
And as that business continued to grow, and as I have built and grown other businesses, and as I interact with people in day-to-day life, big frustrations and massive disappointments and ginormous suckiness sometimes come into play. But now, I’m much better at cutting my losses and focusing on what I can control instead of obsessing over – and being angry about – what I can’t.
A while ago, I had a serious service failing from a supplier that cost me a day’s work and a week’s agony. I quickly vented to my partner and then wrote the company a firm email outlining ways they could make things better. I invested time coming up with solutions and giving them options, so we could get back on a constructive footing. It didn’t mean they had to take any of my suggestions, of course, but at least I was doing something productive with what I could control.
More recently, someone who had booked a consultation call with me didn’t turn up and never bothered to contact me or apologize. After swiftly adding them to my (mental) we-can-not-work-together-because-you-do-not-respect-others-or-your-own-commitments list, I went on with my day.
You guys, shit happens. Things outside our control can annoy us to no end or deal us devastating blows. But just because we’re not pulling all the strings and can’t control all the things, doesn’t mean we’re not pulling or controlling anything. We can always do something (write a letter, ask for a refund, raise a complaint, demand what we deserve, march on Washington… or let go and move on).
Blaming others might be easy and satisfying – and maybe even a necessary catharsis – but focusing on what we can control is useful and buoying and can help us get the end result we want.
We can’t change what’s happened, but we can choose what happens next.