Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
The setting: a Thanksgiving potluck dinner for more than 30 Americans and Germans living in Berlin. The key actors: two Germans and an American tasked with seeing that the main act — two stuffed and cooked turkeys with cabbage and potatoes sides — went off flawlessly, from the order with the butcher to the delivery to a fourth floor apartment. The guests would bring vegetarian dishes so that, meat-eater or not, no one would go hungry.
Well, at least the whole production looked good on paper.
It is perhaps the destiny of many a plan to be a flawless concept. We are excited about the idea, we do our best to include the right people and to employ the right tools, and we sketch out timelines that move the three — idea, people, and tools — along a seemingly barrier-free path. And by barrier-free, here, I mean challenges that we anticipate and jump over as mere hurdles on our race to a successful finish.
But real life does not always work that way and the rare times it does are over-hyped as what we should focus on.
That is, the idea, while good, may still ignore (and not deliberately) key elements. Humans are like other machines in that sometimes they stall, act funny, and suffer complete breakdowns. And tools … Well, anyone who has had to deal with a computer anywhere, ever, knows that even the best of them can disappoint you when you need them to work.
A couple of weeks back, I wrote about a favorite song in which a key part of the lyrics — pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again — helped me get through many a self-loathing cycle. The other part of that, though, is acceptance. It is not necessary to start all over again when the best answer in the situation may be, as one friend used to say, “to suck it up and deal with it.” Not change, but acceptance. Not what is next, but what is now.
Some of you may have already heard about a therapeutic method called ACT, or acceptance and commitment therapy. In lay terms, the difference between this and, say, the more well-known cognitive and behavioral therapy approach is the shift between “Ah, that. So what now?” and “Oh, that! That has to be fixed!” The one focuses on awareness and tension release, the other on acknowledgement and an assertion of control. While there’s certainly a place for both in life as in industry, perhaps knowing when it is best to apply one or the other approach is a critical life skill.
If today you were planning to wrestle a plan back along its original route, to yell and fight your way through something you have labeled as a battle that has to be won, to fix something (or someone) that you have said “is always this way,” the answer may be to not do anything of the kind. Accept how you are feeling. Rediscover what truly matters. And act with both of those at the fore.
So when the sound system gives up the ghost in the middle of a song, whip out the computer and stream music. When the turkeys never made it into the oven because an employee forgot that part of the order, welcome the offer of a fast-cooked roasted pork. And when everyone who matters tells you that with a ton of hungry guests, some of whom who do not eat meat at all, the event was a smashing success, do not spend your time trying to convince them otherwise. Be gracious. Be accepting. Let go. And really remember how you loved the vegan stuffing too.