It might have been your best friend, your partner, your boss, your brother or even your lover. It burns deep inside. You can’t sleep for the anger, the shock and dismay. You may find yourself still not believing it’s happened to you. But it has!
When those we have entrusted with our money, our plans, our strategies, our loyalty or even our love betray us, we feel violated deep inside. We feel crushed. We wonder if we can ever recover from this.
It is at this moment of realization that you will make some of the most important decisions of your entire life. The three most critical choices you will make – whether you realize it or not are: (1) what to focus on; (2) what to believe; and (3) what to expect from this point forward. These three choices will determine the final impact this betrayal has on your life.
A Lesson From Mickey
Most people don’t know that Walt Disney suffered a great business defeat early in his career. While living and working out of his uncle’s garage, Walt Disney had created a cartoon character called “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” and signed a contract with Universal Studios to create animated short films about the little fury critter that would be shown before the main feature film at theaters. The short films enjoyed great success, but in his youth and naivete, Walt did not realize that he had signed away the rights to the character. When his contract came up for renewal, Universal Studios refused to renew the contract and announced that it owned the exclusive rights to produce films using “Oswald The Lucky Rabbit.” Walt was devastated.
Starting over from scratch, Walt desperately needed to come up with a new character. The garage he was living in was infested with rats and mice. Instead of sulking in his misery, instead of turning bitter, instead of filing a lawsuit, Walt focused on what he had left – his gifts, talents and abilities – and his incredible imagination. Drawing inspiration from his miserable surroundings, Walt actually made a pet out of one of the mice and kept it in a cage on his desk. Then he created a cute little mouse character that he named “Mickey Mouse.” And the rest, as they say, is history!
Three Critical Choices at Work
What made the difference? Walt Disney made the same three critical choices that heroes have made for thousands of years in order to turn tragedy into triumph.
He Chose His Focus
First, Walt chose his focus. Instead of focusing on his bitterness and anger, instead of focusing on his miserable rat and mouse infested environment, he focused on the next most immediate steps he needed to take in order to survive. He chose to move forward. He chose to focus on what was in front of him, not what was behind him. He focused on the few resources he had left. He poured himself into his work and he started over.
He Chose His Beliefs
Second, Walt chose to believe. He could have decided his career as a cartoonist was over, and that he could never make it in Hollywood. He could have chosen to believe he could not compete against the “big boys” and disappeared into oblivion. After all, at that time, the only movies being made in Hollywood had real live actors, not cartoon characters. There was no full-length cartoon movie industry at that time, and no one knew whether there was even a viable market for full-length cartoon movies. Despite all this, Walt chose to believe, and he chose to keep believing every new day that the sun came up. Through this tenacious belief, and hard work, he single handedly created a whole new industry.
He Chose His Expectations
Third, Walt chose his expectations. He knew he could create cartoon characters that audiences would love because he had done it before. He expected to succeed, and this gave him the motivation to keep moving forward.
Remember, “they” may take away your office, your status, and your income. But they can’t take away your determination to succeed, your inherent abilities, your intelligence or your creativity. These are the very things that have brought you all of your past successes. These gifts, talents and abilities haven’t gone anywhere. Wherever you go, they are still with you!
Left for Dead in the Andes Mountains
In 1985, Joe Simpson broke his leg on his descent of a 20,000 foot mountain in the Peruvian Andes. Then after a second fall left him dangling in mid-air off a cliff, his partner, Simon Yates, cut the rope that tied them together. This rope was Simpson’s last and only hope for survival. Simpson dropped into a long, narrow ice tube that went straight down. His body came to rest precariously on a narrow ice bridge between two much deeper vertical drops. He had two choices. He could either sit there until death slowly overtook his freezing body, or he could plunge into the dark unknown to meet death on his own terms. He had one ice screw left, which he banged into the wall of ice. Then he threaded his rope through it and somehow managed to tie a crude knot in the end of it. This became his anchor as he lowered his body into the deep, dark, icy unknown.
To his surprise, his body eventually came to rest on a flat surface of snow. Then he saw a thin ray of light shining from the opposite side of the cavern. There was a forty-five degree slope of ice leading up to where he could just barely see a pinpoint of daylight. This was the way out – if only he could reach it.
He bent over and dug a small foothold for each of his boots, which were equipped with crampons (metal claws) for climbing. Then he pounded his ice axe into the wall of ice above him and slowly lifted his bad leg, then his good leg into the footholds, while pulling his body up with the ice axe. Each time he put weight on his bad leg, searing pain exploded up and down his leg. He would scream and curse out loud. Then he would repeat the process.
It was at this moment that he made a critical decision. He chose to focus on the pattern rather than the pain. Simpson says, “The flares of pain became merged into the routine and I paid less attention to them, concentrating solely on the patterns.” He was so intent on focusing on the pattern that he refused to even look up to the object of his climb for fear that it would remind him of the little progress he had made and how far he still had to go. He knew where he was going, but it was more important to focus on the pattern. The pattern was working – one inch at a time – but it was working. After what seemed like an eternity, he popped his head up through the snow to see a ring of spectacularly beautiful mountains and blue sky. He had made it. But now he had to figure out a way to get down the rest of the mountain with a broken leg.
Simpson was forced to experiment and find different patterns of behavior to determine the most efficient and least painful way to get down the 20,000 foot mountain. He tried walking, but fell repeatedly. Nevertheless, he tried to fall forward in the direction he knew he needed to go. When he could not stand, he crawled, then tried to stand and walk again. He walked, fell and crawled over and over again for several days and nights without food or water.
His focus made the difference between death and survival. He would pick a spot in the distance and focus on it. Then he would give himself a deadline by which he had to get to it. When he finally got there, he would pick out another spot in the distance and repeat the pattern. It was a slow, agonizing process and his body got weaker and weaker as he went. But, through the sheer force of his will and the voice inside his head that kept commanding his mangled body forward like a cruel drill sergeant, after several days, he finally got close enough to his campsite where his shouts could be heard.
What can we learn from Joe Simpson’s epic tale of survival and Walt Disney’s incredible comeback?
Choose Your Focus
First, when you find yourself reeling from a shocking act of betrayal, make a conscious choice to focus on the immediate next steps needed for survival – rather than on your bitterness and anger. If you dwell on your anger it will consume all of your creative energy and brain cells – the same brain cells that you will need to come up with your next move.
Second, focus on the resources, skills, gifts, talents and friends you have left – even though they may be few.
Third, don’t throw good money after bad. Don’t pursue litigation unless you absolutely are being forced to do so. When you choose to litigate rather than recuperate, the only ones who get rich are the lawyers. Most lawyers joke that the winner in any lawsuit is the one who has lost the least amount of blood in the fight. History shows there are no real winners except the lawyers. If you’re going to get mad, turn the energy generated by your anger into a new resolve to succeed against all odds. That’s the best way to get even.
Choose Your Beliefs
Make a conscious choice to believe there is a way out. There is always a way out. You can survive this and even prosper on the other side of this tragedy. But first you have to make a very deliberate and conscious choice to believe it. Then you have to pursue it.
Choose Your Expectations
Joe Simpson and Walt Disney both survived severe acts of betrayal because they expected to survive. They had their doubts at first, but with each slow and deliberate step forward came another glimmer of hope. They gave themselves hope by getting up and moving forward after each temporary setback. If you just sit there and wallow in your misery, history will record that this setback was your final resting place. If you get up and keep moving forward, history will record that it was only a temporary setback.
If you expect to survive, your brain cells will suddenly awaken with excitement. They will stand at attention and await your orders. They will find a way because they have been ordered to find a way. Expect to prosper again one day. Expect to rise from the ashes of this tragedy. Create a self-fulfilling prophecy, and then bring it to pass. You can choose to write the final chapter if you want to, but you have to choose to want to.
Get on the Hero’s Path
Heroes throughout history, like Walt Disney and Joe Simpson, have created a well-worn path for us to follow by their examples. It is up to us to choose to follow their footsteps. This is the first and most important choice you can make. Will you wander blindly in your bitterness, depression and anger, or will you choose to follow the heroes’ path?
“Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” — Confucius
If you choose to follow the hero’s path, remember, the three most critical choices you can make today – right now – this very moment are: (1) what to focus on; (2) what to believe; and (3) what to expect. Take conscious control of your focus, your beliefs and your expectations and you can determine the final impact of this tragedy on the rest of your life. Get on the hero’s path and eventually you will go places where only heroes have trod.