Matters Column

A fork in the road during times of change

December 27, 2013
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Why are some people invigorated by a seemingly insurmountable task while others seem paralyzed by the same situation? Some see the opportunity to make progress toward the completion of a project while others shut down unless they see an immediate conclusion well within their reach.   

Other than the obvious propensity toward taking risks, there is one underlying characteristic differentiating the two attitudes: the ability to question “why not?” before acting, rather than needing to understand “why” before formulating a plan and moving forward.

Everyone comes to a fork in the road — a decision point that forever changes what they have done, redirecting all efforts and activities toward the accomplishment of what they have yet to become. Many attempt to define this moment through resolutions to change but find that shifting directions is a process rather than an event.  

We cannot will ourselves to eliminate years of bad habits in one moment; it takes time to undo what we often do to ourselves. “If only …” will never define “what is …” When we trap ourselves within the world of excuses by asking what might have happened “if only” we had acted differently, we lose sight of reality.  

Dwelling upon things not accomplished will never initiate change; it only reinforces your limitations (rather than celebrating your abilities).

Some individuals act in accordance with established policy, practice or procedure whether or not that may be the best way to do something. Others constantly question what they are asked to do as a means to test and temper the validity of an action prior to its being taken.  

What good does it do to advance an idea unless it makes a difference? A person will never experience his or her full potential by seeking comfort within a world defined by others’ expectations. Life is not a spectator sport. It requires careful consideration, intelligent planning and intentional action.  

Most successful individuals establish basic tenants for their life, rules they use to hold themselves accountable for their own actions. While everyone lives by some set of values and ethics, some of the rules that provide the “highest return on investment” would include the following: 

1. It is OK to make a mistake but do not repeat the same mistake. It is OK to make a wrong decision; any well-thought-out decision is better than no decision. 

Learn from your errors, using them as a springboard to propel you forward. People will usually work with you as long as you continue to show measurable progress or growth.  

2. Focus on things you can control. Identify obstacles that are within your sphere of influence and actively seek to eliminate whatever hurdles you can by giving them up to someone who has the ability to influence them. 

Likewise, seek to find the factors you cannot influence or control and give them up immediately.  

3. Lying, cheating or stealing is intolerable. If you are the best performer or individual with the highest results, but those results came through dishonesty or at someone else’s expense, you will not be respected, credible or working (or participating in an ongoing relationship) for very long.

4. Results are recognized; effort is merely a means to the end. Don’t seek praise for working hard or contributing greatly; instead, let recognition come your way through the results your effort achieved. 

Do not begin your new year thinking about change; take intentional actions to initiate change. 

5. All individuals may speak, question and have a voice in any decision, but that does not mean all votes are equal. Life is not a democracy. Input is valued but an individual responsible for the ultimate success of any endeavor must — and will — make the final decision. 

Do not confuse “equal” with “equitable” as you seek to identify and establish new points from which you can leap forward during the coming year.  

6. There is nothing that “cannot be done.” While some solutions may not be cost-effective, or are simply impractical or beyond our ability to implement, “I can’t,” “It’s not possible” and other self-condemning attitudes are not acceptable.  

Well-thought-out solutions to issues you may encounter while doing your job (or during life, in general) are not reasons for celebration; they are simply expectations of the way you should continually exhibit and utilize your abilities.

As the curtain falls on another year, focus on the things you have experienced rather than the things that could have been accomplished “if only you had not run out of time.”  

Somehow, building from a foundation of “what is” seems much more relevant to life than hiding behind “what could have been.” Seeking “what has yet to happen” provides a much better foundation on which to build in this life than “Why try?”

David Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association in Grand Rapids.

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