While many things that happen in your life, good and bad, are outside of your control, how you choose to respond to them is completely up to you.
I love this quote from Chuck Swindoll because it reminds me of that fact every day.
Do you allow an obstacle to be a stumbling block or a stepping stone? Do you allow a setback to crush you or to motivate you to prove your worth? Do you allow failure to make you question yourself or to push you to pivot to something greater?
The ways we respond to adversity can tell us a lot about ourselves. In times of uncertainty, chaos, or distress, we have the option to despair or to rally. The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of those times, and it has brought on acute challenges. The world went into lockdown, and our plans were thrown into turmoil. Many of us, myself included, struggled with a sense of powerlessness, feeling like the world was out of control with no end in sight. Then, much like after a forest fire, we started to see green shoots sprouting up: individuals who took action to make something great out of something terrible. People began collecting masks for healthcare workers. They joined with their communities to build learning pods. They started to create new companies, connect to new groups, and follow their passions.
Having a sense of control over our fate is critical to our mental and physical well-being as well as our long-term outcomes. According to a BBC article on the subject by David Robson, “People who report feeling little power in their lives tend to show a greater risk of illnesses and death, even when you control for factors like their socioeconomic status.”
The benefits of autonomy extend far and wide. In his article, Robson cites research that those who feel more agency before a layoff have a better chance of getting a job later. In another study, encouraging nursing home patients to control their environment led 93 percent of them to be more alert and active. That sense of self-determination, even with small things such as furniture placement and the temperature of the room, created greater happiness.
During this time when things feel more out of control than ever, the difference between stagnation and success comes down to a simple choice: Will you be a taker or a maker? By finding the opportunity in adversity, you can turn challenges into possibilities, build resilience, and grow in ways you never would have when things were easier.
What does it mean to be a taker vs a maker?
A taker is someone who accepts what is happening around them.
A maker is someone who shapes the environment they're in.
Life often hands us difficulties and obstacles, but we have more autonomy and ability to shape events than we believe. And our response is as important as the event itself. Every time something bad happens, we can do one of two things: sit back and take it, allowing it to throw us off course, or craft our next steps to move beyond it.
A friend of mine was once passed over for promotion. She shared how frustrated she was to be told that she needed more experience on project work to get promoted. This frustrated her because she had been stuck managing tickets that came in because her manager needed someone to do it. This prevented her from learning and gaining the experience she needed to move up. She loved her company and team, but she felt trapped.
Eventually, I persuaded her to interview for a different role at another company where they were looking for someone with her skills. She got the offer. Her former employer immediately offered her a big raise and promised that she would get promoted the next cycle, but the new offer was immediately at the higher level, with a scope that allowed for project work, so she took it and didn't look back. Though she could have sat back and waited for what she wanted to come to her, instead she sought out an alternative path. Regardless of whether she ultimately got what she wanted, she could now see that she could be hired to do the work she wanted, and demonstrated her worth to her manager. She found her own way to get unstuck, which put her on a new path toward her long-term aspirations.
An event that crushes a taker can become a catalyst and a moment of clarity for a maker. Rather than accepting the outcome, a maker flips the script and explores other avenues to get to the same destination. While it may not be something as drastic as finding a new job, taking an obstacle and turning it into an opportunity can be what you need to propel yourself forward.
How to build a making mindset
You don't always get to choose the field you play on. Sometimes it's going to be uneven, and it'll be wet when it rains. You may slip and take a fall. You may be tempted to tell yourself, “I can’t do this. I don’t play well in the rain.” Instead, find a way to reframe it by saying, “This may look like a detriment, but it may actually be an advantage, because I am more prepared for it than my opponent.”
The maker mindset allows you to look at a challenge and find ways through or around it. It is about pushing yourself to seek new options and create opportunities where none existed before. The key is to take what seems like an insurmountable problem and reframe it in a way that inspires you to take action. For example:
Instead of, “I can’t do this,” tell yourself, “I will find a way.”
Instead of, “I was passed over and I’m never going to get the role,” tell yourself, “I will use this as motivation to demonstrate my worth.”
If the answer is “no,” take it instead as “not now”, and look for a way to make it a “yes”.
Failure is not the end of the road. It is merely a sign that this was not the right road for you at the time. Figuring out what you learned from an experience, and what you are taking with you as you move forward, is the most critical part of going from a taker to a maker.
How to silence the taker in your head
I had another friend who felt stuck in her job. She didn't feel supported by her manager or recognized for her contributions. One day she heard about a new function being created at her company and volunteered to help craft this new role. Not only did she help shape the discipline, but she went on to lead it—and hundreds of others who came after her.
Feeling stuck could have been a source of frustration or sadness. Instead, she took it as a sign that things weren't working for her, and set out to create the job she wanted. Though she could have played the hand she was dealt, she chose to make her own luck.
When something goes wrong, allow yourself to mourn. Give yourself space to get upset, and then do a reset by asking yourself these questions:
What is one thing I can learn from this experience?
If this becomes a setback for me, why? How can I prevent this?
How will I change things for the better from here?
What factors led to this that I controlled? What factors did I not control?
What will I actively choose to do differently in the future because of what happened?
Often, a change in perspective can be all you need to stop taking and start making. Setbacks can be your greatest teacher—but only if you listen to what they’re trying to tell you. Take a step back and examine what happened, how you can address it, and what you can learn from it moving forward. By finding ways to reframe your reaction and your approach, you can turn a negative into a positive.
Being a maker is a mindset, not something you are born with. It is a choice you make every day to face challenges with purpose and strength. Sometimes the worst event in your career can be the catalyst for the best one yet—you just have to decide how to move forward.
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