Successful People Treat Problems and Setbacks as Opportunities

Commitment to taking personal responsibility for your personal and professional success is one of the keys to career and life success that is part of my Common Sense Success System.  I also discuss it in several of my books: Straight Talk for Success, Your Success GPS, and 42 Rules to Jumpstart Your Professional Success. 

If you want to succeed, you must commit to three things.  First, you must take personal responsibility for your success.  Only you can make you a success.  You need to be willing to do the things necessary to succeed.  Second, you must set high goals — and then do whatever it takes to achieve them.   Third, stuff happens; as you go through life you will encounter many problems and setbacks.  You need to react positively to the negative stuff and move forward toward your goals.

Yesterday I did a blog post on taking personal responsibility for finishing strong in 2009 and starting fast in 2010.  In that post I mentioned that the things that happen to us in life aren’t as important as how we react to them.  As I was writing that blog post, I was reminded of a chapter in my latest Walk the Talk Company book, Your Success GPS.  I’d like to share that chapter with you here…

Stuff Happens: Choose to React Positively

Stuff happens: good stuff, bad stuff, frustrating stuff, unexpected stuff.  Successful people respond to the stuff that happens in a positive way.  Humans are the only animals with free will.  That means we – you and me – get to decide how we react to every situation that comes up.

Have you ever had a major life crisis?  I did.  A little over 10 years ago, I found out that I had Thyroid cancer – not a particularly deadly form of cancer, but cancer nonetheless.  Trust me, you don’t want to hear the words “you” and “cancer” in the same sentence.  This experience qualified as some bad stuff.

The news about having cancer could have depressed me.  Instead, it energized me.  I remember thinking, “I’ve got a lot to do.  I better get busy if I’m going to have surgery.”  I then got busy and rescheduled any client work that would conflict with the surgery. 

I learned everything I could about Thyroid cancer.  I talked to friends in the medical field who referred me to docs they knew who specialized in the disease.  I went on line and read, and read, and read.  I interviewed a couple of surgeons and chose one to perform my surgery.

I visited a couple of on line Thyroid Cancer support sites.  I mostly didn’t like what I found there – lots of angry people lashing out at one another, the unfairness of life in general and Thyroid Cancer in particular.  I decided that if I were going to stay positive, it was best for me to stay away from the online cancer support groups.

In order to meet my client commitments, I had to spend the weekend before my surgery in New York.  I finished up one engagement on a Friday and had to do a talk to some pharmaceutical execs on Monday.  I had some down time over the weekend, so I decided to visit a few museums and do some shopping.  I bought a bright red striped tie that I wore to my talk on Monday.  I still call it my cancer tie.  I think it brings me luck.  I wear it when I’m having a bad day.

After I finished the talk on Monday, the person running the program announced that this was going to be my last talk for a while as I was having cancer surgery the following Friday.  People were incredulous.  They asked, “What are you doing here when you’re having cancer surgery in four days?” 

I said that I had committed to doing this talk several months previous and that as long as I wasn’t actually in the hospital I was going to do it – to the best of my knowledge Thyroid Cancer wasn’t contagious.

The interesting thing about all of this was that I never considered canceling or postponing the talk.  As long as I was able, I was going to honor my commitments.  I chose to deal with cancer the way I choose to deal with most things in my life; honor my commitments, do the best I can.

My cancer story has a happy ending.  I have been cancer free ever since the operation and seem to be healthier than ever. 

This story has nothing to do with my cancer experience and everything to do with free will and personal responsibility.  As you go through life, stuff will happen, most of it out of your control.  The important thing is how you react to the stuff that happens to you – the nice things, the mild annoyances and the major catastrophes.  It’s your choice.  Successful people choose to respond to events proactively.  They do what they can to make the best out of any situation in which they find themselves. 

I find a lot of wisdom in Native American spiritual traditions.  The Navajos live in the arid plains of the US southwest.  Drought is always a problem for them.  If you’ve ever been in Navajo country in New Mexico and Arizona you know what I mean.  I once met a Navajo Medicine Man who summed up the difference between how white people and the Navajos deal with adverse situations.  He said “When there is no rain for a long time, the white man prays for rain.  The Navajo prays to find the ability to live in harmony with the draught.” 

In other words, you have the ability to choose how you react to anything that happens to you.  When Your Success GPS is functioning properly, you’ll choose the proactive positive action, instead of the reactive blaming negative one.

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people commit to taking personal responsibility for their lives and careers.  They choose to react positively to the people and events in their lives.  As you go through life you will encounter problems and setbacks.  We all do.  Choose to learn from these experiences.  Use them to become a better, more successful person.  I did a talk for the National Association of Women Business Owners a couple of weeks ago.  When I was there, I met Mary Cantando, owner of a company called The Woman’s Advantage.   Mary sells “breakthrough information to grow your woman-owned business.”  One of her products is a desk calendar.  She gave samples of the advice on the calendar.  I got one that had a quote about dealing with setbacks; “Successful people have setbacks.  What separates them from others is that they don’t give up.”  Great common sense advice – don’t give up in the ace of problems and setbacks.

That’s my take on treating problems and setbacks as opportunities.  What’s yours?  If you get a minute please leave a comment sharing one of your triumphs over problems and setbacks.  As always, thanks for reading.


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  1. ‘-* I am very thankful to this topic because it really gives up to date information :”;

  2. Thank you.

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