Many of us understand disappointment. It is a part of life and, unfortunately, something we all have to face from time to time.
It can be devastating, crippling, painful and an emotional roller coaster. It can feel like the world is crashing down and putting all it’s weight on our shoulders.
Years ago I had a situation that, at the time, felt horrible. I was working at a company and my immediate boss left the organization. At first I was disappointed (since I really enjoyed working with him on our team) but I also kept an optimistic mindset.
I knew the team and the projects better than anyone in the organization and had shown progressive leadership for a few years, even moving into roles with more responsibility. I thought I might have a shot at that job, which would mean an incredible chance to prove my leadership skills and gain even better experience.
But then I was told that they weren’t going to replace that role. They would divide the responsibilities up among various team members and areas of the organization to save money on the expensive hire.
While this was disappointing I still felt it could end up being a good situation for me. But then they announced that they also were going to change around the structure and were giving us a newer product that had struggled to get going.
Everyone inside the organization and close to the organization knew of this project and the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent with no return. It had already been “relaunched” several times with several different project managers. A joke had formed with some of the committee members from the board who worked on the project that the project manager role was a revolving door and being at that role was a sure path to leave the organization.
Initially we were unsure who, specifically, would have to work on that project. After a few weeks of back and forth it was ultimately decided that I would have to be the one to take on the project.
The board was getting anxious about this project and the wasted money so they wanted me to take it over. They still felt the “idea” behind the new program was good and wanted me to continue to pursue their idea and keep going with the foundation that was built.
This was devastating. Other staff members would come up to me and tilt their head to the side as they said, “I’m so sorry, Scott. This is awful. If I hear of anyone that is hiring I will pass along your information.” It was almost if I had already been fired.
As I began to dissect the project and all of the mistakes I started to realize that there was opportunity there. It was minimal at first but as I worked and worked I started to see major areas that had potential.
One unexpected thing happened during the start of that project. This organization was notorious for not giving leaders the reigns to make decisions for their areas of responsibilities. It always seemed like when projects went well the people at the top took credit and when projects failed they blamed their subordinates.
This made it difficult to really take hold of something and lead it in the way you feel it should be led. It was micromanagement but sporadic and usually did just enough to derail any momentum built up to that point.
But because this project was shaping up to be a huge failure, everyone scurried away from it. The leaders who were in charge of the project made sure to pass any failures on the new “team” leading it (aka me). There was no excitement around this project any longer and people in the organization knew they didn’t want to be connected to it in any way.
While this may seem like a bad thing, I actually found that this gave me the ability to make the crucial decisions that needed to be made. I didn’t have a group of board members and senior leaders always interjecting their thoughts and directives. I was free to do whatever I wanted, as long as it didn’t make them look any worse.
So I owned it. I decided that I would work my tail off and do whatever I could do in order to turn the program around.
I simplified it. I took away the complexity that crippled it and made sure to focus on the key value components and threw away everything else. I put together a phased project plan that would not only turn this program around but could then be leveraged to help the organization in other key areas.
Then I worked the plan. I met with stakeholders that I needed to meet with and put together plans to take the program where it needed to go if it would avoid being a disaster.
To skip over months and months of hard work, I ultimately turned the program around and found ways to leverage its value to bring revenue into the organization. I put together monetization strategies and ways to continue to grow the program. Basically, I figured out a way to make it work and worked hard enough to actually get it there.
Once I started to get the program turned around I noticed something interesting. I started to get recognition from inside and outside the organization for my work on it. Leaders from other companies would ask me how I did it and what went into the decisions I made.
An outside company eventually noticed me and after talking to them about this project they offered me a job. They had a similar problem and saw my experience as something that could really help them.
I also found out that my name was being thrown around to replace a high level executive in the current organization. I left the organization before finding out if this was true, but regardless, was something positive that I never would have expected when I first was handed a project that seemed like a horrible failure.
It was from this experience that I really started to realize that there isn’t good and bad as we usually see it. The reality is that both exist together, all the time. It is up to us to decide how we respond to situations (good or bad) that will have the biggest impact on our future.
Now when I face adversity I think of this project. I recall the initial feelings of hopelessness and the fact that there was opportunity there. I didn’t see it at first. I was too concerned with throwing a pity party, but if I had realized the potential, I wouldn’t have had such a difficult time initially getting this project going in the right direction.
If you find yourself in a negative situation, remember that there is always opportunity. There is always the chance to gain something positive from the experience. Most likely what comes from the event is all about how you respond to it. Do you accept the negative and search for the positive? Do you work through the difficulties with confident in your abilities? Or do you look for all the reasons to feel sorry for yourself? Your response is all you can really control and that is the factor that can take a bad experience and make it good.