I recently was asked if I have a personal mantra that has guided me through my career. My favorite motto that I try to apply to all aspects of my life is “Attitude is Everything”. I have rock with these words that I’ve kept on my desk for over two decades. It’s there for me as a reminder that I’m in charge of my mood and how I respond to people and situations. It helps me remember that while you can’t control the winds, you can adjust the sails.
I haven’t been good at applying this mantra throughout my career. I am somewhat of a control freak. So, in the past when things didn’t go as expected, I could get stressed or upset. What I’ve learned through my experiences over the decades is that I can’t control too many things, except for me. Mistakes will be made. Balls will drop. Children will get sick at the worse possible times. You’ll find a nail in your tire when you are already late to a meeting. The weather won’t cooperate with your outdoor activities. You can get upset and frustrated, or you can quickly adjust and develop a back-up plan. I’ve learned that for my own health, it’s better to let go and control my attitude and response to the situation.
And what better time to apply this than now? Who would have thought a few months ago that our businesses would be temporarily (or permanently) closed? That we would have to postpone a wedding or cancel our family ski trip? That we would be furloughed … or without a job? We can’t control what is happening around the world right now. We are in uncertain times. And we can make the best of it and stay positive. I’ve been inspired by the moving stories during these times. It’s not just the healthcare providers and first responders (who are amazing human beings) who are going above and beyond. Many people we know are doing extraordinary things. Families are spending quality time together. People are helping neighbors and strangers in incredible ways. People are making the best of a tough situation. This is what a great attitude means.
At work, a positive attitude helps us to see problems as opportunities from which to learn and grow. Don’t we all love being around positive people? It’s a quality I look for when hiring a new person into an organization. During interviews, I ask about a difficult situation they faced in their past and how they handled it. I’m not looking for the most creative solution or the most amazing outcome. I’m looking for how the person viewed the situation and how they approached it. Did they immediately roll up their sleeves and start coming up with potential solutions? Did they engage their fellow workers? Did they take responsibility and learn from the situation?
Positive people have great energy and are a great influence on others. And unfortunately, the ‘Negative Nelly’ can also have an impact. You know that person who’s the first to complain about the situation or the one to tell you how they tried it before, why it’s a bad idea or why it won’t work? These are the people who can bring a great brainstorming session to a halt, and instantly suck all the energy out of a room. While we need people in the workplace with differing perspectives, and people willing to say what needs to be said, we need people to handle it in a constructive way without bringing others down.
At one of my jobs, I had a counterpart who was an unhappy person. He would walk into my office once a week to complain. Yes, business was challenging. Sales were down, we were missing projections, and the analysts were unhappy. But instead of spending time discussing what we could do to improve results, he’d complain about our boss, our counterparts, how we were focused on the wrong things …and I’d get sucked in. I may have been very happy when he walked in, but by the time he left, I felt lifeless and disgruntled. Looking back, I realize that I never walked into his office. I didn’t want to have these “dissection of everything that was wrong with the company” discussions with him. In retrospect, I should have stopped him at the door and invited him to dump on someone else!
On the other hand, many years ago I worked with a woman who was always positive and had great energy. People enjoyed being around her. She was one of the first people selected for key taskforce teams. She was a great listener and made people feel good about themselves. She could always find the silver lining in a situation. She rose rapidly through the organization and I believe much of it was because of her great energy and ability to remain positive and pleasant in tough situations.
I believe it’s important to keep a positive attitude and approach problems as learning opportunities. It’s far more enjoyable and healthier to be around positive, can-do people versus those who complain and drag you down. Things happen. COVID-19 has impacted everyone. We will emerge stronger and be ready should the world be faced with something like this again. Change is constant and life is about learning and growing. You can’t control what’s happening around you, but you can control your response. You can adjust the sails in response to the winds. “Attitude is Everything”.