What to do after you’ve lost the “big one”

Okay, so you’ve lost the “big one” – the deal that was supposed to put you over the top.  The one that was supposed to catapult your career to a new level, separate you from your peers, assure that you got that promotion or maybe even pay off your mortgage.  Now what?

When the rug gets pulled out from under you, the usual reaction is shock and disbelief.  After all, you have been working on this project for what seems like forever and thought everything was perfect.  Then, unanticipated forces suddenly materialized and torpedoed your success.  The next thing you feel is anger.  Then come depression and disillusionment.

The real challenge comes after you cycle through these emotions.  You need to decide your next step.  What you do from here will determine whether you are able to bounce back or spiral downward into more failure and more depression.  The decisions you make from here are critical.

Now is the time to make these three critical decisions:  (1) What to focus on; (2) what to believe; and (3) What to expect – from this point forward.

Choose Your Focus

One of the most profound and liberating truths discovered by behavioral scientists and psychiatrists in recent years is that you can choose what you focus on – no matter what is going on in the world around you.  Here’s an example.  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 created a cute little mouse character that he named “Mickey Mouse.”  And the rest, as they say, is history!

What can you do when someone or something has pulled the rug out from under you?

  • First, don’t look backward at what “could have been.”
  • Second, don’t dwell on your anger or it will consume all of the creative energy and brain cells.  These are the same brain cells that you will need to come up with your next move.
  • Third, avoid litigation if at all possible.  The only people who get rich in litigation are the attorneys.
  • Fourth, focus on the gifts, talents and resources you have left.
  • Fifth, make a firm commitment to start over from where you are.

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!

Choose Creative, Not Blind Persistence

Persistence in pursuit of your goal is a good thing – as long as it’s the right kind of persistence.  Blind persistence is lunacy!  Creative persistence is genius.  Persevering against the odds doesn’t mean blindly ignoring the road signs.  If something isn’t working, change it.

Soichiro Honda is a classic example of creative persistence in action.  In 1945, Soichiro was making piston rings at a small plant in Japan.  The plant was destroyed by a U.S. air raid along with most of the city it was in.  But Soichiro was a survivor.  He chose where to put his focus.  He collected the metal from left over military vehicles and airplanes and moved to a new city to open a small factory and continued production on a small scale.  The end of the war brought an end to his piston ring production business.  Even though he survived the war, he could not survive the end of the war.

At the end of World War II, Tokyo and most industrial cities had been destroyed.   Gasoline was rationed and sometimes impossible to find, so he came up with an idea.  In 1946, he took regular bicycles and installed small, military surplus engines on them and started selling them.  But he soon ran out of military surplus engines.  It looked like another dead-end.

Did this stop Soichiro?  No.  He decided to start making his own small engines.  However, there was one small problem – he had no money!  So he wrote letters to bicycle shop owners throughout Japan, explaining his idea to make motorbikes and asking them to invest.  With the money that a few of them invested, he started manufacturing his own engines and motorbikes.  The first motorbikes he made were too big and bulky and very few Japanese bought them.  Was this another dead end?

No.  Soichiro listened to the feedback and adjusted accordingly.  This is what creative persistence is all about.  Soichiro changed his approach.  He stripped his motorbike down and made it much lighter.  The new design won the Emperor’s Award.  In time, this little motorbike captured 60% of the Japanese market and Soichiro began exporting them to Taiwan.  In 1948, Soichiro established the Honda Motor Company, which is one of the biggest manufacturers of cars and motorcycles in the world today.

What can you learn from Soichiro Honda?  True survivors know the difference between blind persistence and creative persistence.  What if you say, “But I’m not a very creative person.  I’m out of ideas.”  Take comfort – there is no reason to reinvent the wheel.  Find people who are already succeeding at what you want to do and learn their secrets.  Read books and articles about the legends in your industry.  Get into the minds of these icons.  There is no excuse for blindly stumbling in the dark to find your way.  Find and follow the path of those who have gone before you.  If there is a method or system to their success, then it is capable of being learned.  If it is capable of being learned, then it is capable of being duplicated.  Study it.  Duplicate it.  Then improve upon it.

Choose Your Beliefs and Expectations

The decisions you make from here are largely dependant on your expectations of the world and of yourself.  What you are expecting today determines whether you will or will not be able to see the possibilities all around you.  Those who survive and prosper in the midst of adversity are able to see and hear opportunities that no one else can.  But how do they do it?

Psychologists and behavioral scientists have long-known that we tend to see what we’re expecting to see and filter out what we’re not expecting to see.  For example, if you are looking for the red copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,you are not likely to see the blue copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn sitting right there on the bookshelf in front of you.  Why?  Your mind creates a model of the universe based on your expectations and you tend to make decisions based on that model.  What you are expecting literally determines what you can and cannot see.  It follows logically, that if you can learn to choose your expectations, you will literally determine what you can and cannot see.

So what should you choose to expect from this point forward?  First, make a decision to write the final chapter in the book of your life.  It is your life – after all!  Don’t let someone else write it for you.  If you expect that you will have the final say, you brain cells will literally open up and you will be able to see opportunities you never saw before.

Three days after Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer, he boldly declared, “I want you all to know that I intend to beat this disease, and further, I intend to ride again as a professional cyclist.”  Was he a prophet?  Did he receive a message in a dream?  Did he know something the rest of the world didn’t?  The answer is – none of the above.  He simply made a conscious, deliberate choice to believe.  This belief is what drove his expectations.  He expected to make a come-back because he truly believed he could make a come-back – and he did.  His beliefs and expectations allowed him to see possibilities that others could not see.  Likewise, your beliefs and expectations literally determine whether or not you will be able to see the possibilities that exist all around you from this point forward.

Take active, conscious control of your focus, your beliefs and expectations and you will take control of your fate and your destiny.  These are the three most critical choices you can make.