By Mark E. Smith
I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a very large group of diverse professionals – executives, CEOs, managers, and small-business owners.
In a rapport-building exercise, I asked the group to be open and trusting, and by a show of hands, how many of them felt that 2012 was a great year for them? Two of us – yes, I was one of them – raised our hands.
I then asked how many people had a terrible year in 2012, and it was a sea of hands in the air, with seemingly everyone raising their hands.
Then, I asked how many people had an in-between year in 2012, and three people raised their hands.
There was a fairly round number of attendees at the conference, of diverse backgrounds and occupations, and what I realized was that, mathematically, 95% of them raised their hands that they’d had a terrible year.
I went on to do my talk about “recognizing the treasure within each of us,” and then we had a question-and-answer session. And, as is my ultimate blessing and privilege, the program went fantastic, where from the host to attendee surveys, I was noted as the highlight of the conference.
Yet, as my publicist and good friend, Haley, and I got in my van, starting it to leave, I asked, “How is it that 95% of those participants had a terrible year?” It really did trouble me, where I wanted to go back and learn each person’s story. I mean, I know all of us go through tough – sometimes, hellish – times in our lives, so there undoubtedly is more pain in the lives of those around us than we realize. I can only imagine how many people in that room experienced a painful relationship, illness in the family, financial troubles, depression, and on and on during 2012. Yet, to have 95% of a large audience tell me they’ve had a terrible year truly saddened me.
Interestingly, just prior to that conference, I’d read that 63% of Americans feel that the best is past, that only worst times are to come – a record high of discouragement in our country today. Again, I know that these are tough times for many, but the lack of hope and optimism is downright alarming.
All of this reminded me of the hellish times in my life – from the petty like riding my power wheelchair to work in horrible snow storms, to the more serious like finding my mother with her wrists slit on my 10th birthday, to my sister having cancer, to being in painful relationships, and so on – but I don’t recall having what I would label an outright bad year, not to mention a bad week (a bad day, here or there, but that’s to be expected). There’s always some blessing – yes, even during hellish times.
So, what was it that made 2012 a great year for me, as opposed to 95% of my peers that day? Gratitude and personal growth. Sure, I can make the year sound terrible, too: As a full-time single father with cerebral palsy, with the economy in the dumps, and my sister having another cancer scare, the year had its challenges. Yet, while I acknowledged each adversity, I chose not to let them define my year. Instead, I had a great year. My daughter’s doing extremely well, there’s a special lady in my life, I still live totally debt free, my sister is healthy, and I maintain rewarding work. No, my life isn’t easy on the daily basis, but in the larger picture, all is blessed. Why focus on the trying times of 2012, when there’s so much to be thankful for?
And, that’s where all of this ties together. While we can’t control many circumstances that bring adversities into our lives, we always retain the ultimate ability to address them: Are you going to choose to focus on defeat or victory, the challenges or the successes, the curses or blessings? You have the power to choose the perspectives in your life – we all do.
And, it was Haley who raised a great point that day. Maybe the 95% of people at that conference who declared having a terrible year were only thinking of the bad, not the blessings? Despite some adversities, surely there were great moments in all of their lives in 2012 – they were just choosing to focus on the negative, albeit even if just being put on the spot with my question.
For the New Year, I hope more of us employ the conscious power of choice – that is, choosing to focus on the positives. The fact is, focusing on the negative stalls us, while focusing on the positive empowers us. When we’re negative, we dwell; when we’re positive, we accomplish. …And, we know which gets results and inspires us. The power of choice isn’t rocket science.
We’re all going to face adversities in 2013, and of course we should acknowledge and address them. I’m not saying pretend that adversities don’t exist – they do, and the only way to resolve them is to address them. However, rather than hyper focusing on only the negatives in a situation – or, forbid, our whole lives – let us focus on the positives. I’ve never encountered an adversity in my life where there ultimately wasn’t opportunity or blessing. It hasn’t always been immediately evident or timely, but truly, even the worst times of pain have brought my life to higher levels of opportunity and blessing.
So, how do we shift toward the positive powers of choice? …By consciously looking at the positives, and moving our perspectives in that direction – it’s that simple.
Maybe you’re entering the New Year with a relationship on the rocks because you’re both dwelling on the negatives. Get on the same page as a couple, remind each other why you fell in love in the first place, and choose as a team to focus on those positives – don’t settle for an end when you can reignite the beginning. Choose to keep learning, growing, and loving.
Just because the economy is down, doesn’t mean you have to be down – choose to focus on the positives and opportunity – and look for them where you wouldn’t expect. A college buddy of mine was an executive at the country’s largest newspaper chain, but was laid off a year ago based on changing times. He’s been out of work ever since, but has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, filling his time of adversities with efforts that bless others, having now helped build dozens of homes for those in need. Nevertheless, his actions weren’t always so selfless. His ultimate dream for years was simply to own a Ferrari, loving the car when he finally bought it in 2008. He called me not too long ago and said, “Mark, I have great news – I sold my Ferrari.”
I was puzzled because he loved that car, and it was a dream realized, so how was selling it great news?
“That car was a double blessing in disguise,” he told me. “When I bought it, it was my most prized possession, and when I sold it, it was a true blessing – that car just paid my daughter’s college tuition when I couldn’t have afforded it.”
My friend didn’t look at dreams lost by having to sell his beloved car based on job loss, but he saw dreams realized by using it to pay his daughter’s tuition. He chose to look at the positive in what those who were more superficial may have seen as a disappointment.
Of course, we’re not islands, and those around us have a huge impact on how we see the world and feel. Part of the power of positive choice is choosing who’s in our lives and how we deal with them. In my life, I’ve made big strides over the years to avoid those who bring negativity and drama into my life. I want reciprocating relationships of inspiration – and I’m striving to be that person, as well. If we’re around lousy people, with bleak outlooks, who are emotional and psychological vacuums, we’re going to get sucked into what Dave Ramsey calls the “language of losers,” people who are so negative that they just pull us down. Instead, we should surround ourselves with champions, those who ooze positivity and are our peers in positive outlooks. People who pump us up – who are excited about life – are who we should choose to have around us, just as we should do for others.
With 2013 right around the corner, I still have no idea what it has in store for me. I’m betting that there will be adversity – I don’t know in what form, or how severe, but it will be there. Nevertheless, I’m also betting that I’ll get through it with strides, as I always have, knowing that adversity is always lined with opportunity and blessing. Join me in choosing the power of positivity to make 2013 among our best years ever, regardless of what it brings.