The Unexpected Breakdown
Most of us were doing the same thing between midnight and 4 am on July 16th, 2018 that we do every night; sleeping. But, for Walter Carr it will be forever etched in his mind. In case you cannot recognize the name, you may have read or heard about a young man who walked 20 miles to get to his first day of work on time after his car broke down. That man was Walter Carr. Not able to get a ride on short notice and not to be grounded by his predicament, he braved the night and the elements to report for his first day at a moving company job. His effort and dedication were rewarded three-fold. First, the police officers who found him on the way bought him breakfast and helped him get to the family that the company was moving that day. Second, when the company CEO learned what Walter did, he gifted him with his own car, a Ford Escape. Third, the lady being moved by the company was so touched about Walter’s story, she posted it on Facebook and a GoFundMe for Walter had raised $44,000 by July 18th.
His story is a reminder of persistence. Success does require sacrifice, and when you choose to give your best in the worst of circumstances, you are positioned to win.
The Unexpected Fire
Bestselling author Simon Sinek stated, “Plan for the fact that no plan goes according to plan.” This was certainly true when at 10:30 pm on August 29th, 2016, Gap’s regional general manager Jim Young got a call that their largest distribution center was on fire. After the fire was put out, half a million square feet had burned down but no one was hurt.
Fatalities were avoided due to the numerous fire drills that had been conducted. This repetitive training resulted in all personnel safely exiting the warehouse within five minutes.
It’s difficult to determine when things will go wrong but we can learn to respond appropriately when the car breaks down the night before a big day, or you receive that call you’ve been hoping to never get.
The following distillation is by no means insulation from the unexpected but a reminder that even when life goes bad it can still turn out to be good or even better. Consider these two factors in the vicissitudes of life:
We process events differently. Not all of us can be cool as a cucumber when the heat is turned on. One of life’s greatest challenges is to control our thinking process. But it is possible, to change how we process events. Instead of sinking fast or slow in the quicksand of unexpected circumstances we can improve our mental process by reducing and eliminating glitches.
Mental glitches work in the same way as technical glitches in a computer. They cause the system to malfunction and operate intermittently. Faced with and overwhelmed by the unexpected, there is a tendency to revert to low quality thinking that leads to low value habits and coping mechanisms. They provide brief pleasure but lasting discontent. Mental glitches come in the form of unfiltered reactions like anger, fear, anxiety, depression, or blaming others when we should be taking responsibility. What we have been practicing in our thinking comes to light during unexpected events similar to how the fire drills led to the safe evacuation of the employees at Gap when the real time event occurred.
We can retrain our brain to better process by creating a playbook to make high value choices in difficult circumstances. It consists of questions like, “What’s the worst that could happen?” “What are possible responses if such a thing were to happen?”
These “thinking drills” provide a framework to maintain an imperturbable heart and a clear head. They also help to keep the glitches at bay. If you want to change how you handle the unexpected, do some thinking drills when things are calm. This will lead to a more filtered way of handling the unexpected.
In both Walter Carr and Gap’s example we notice some extraordinary outcomes from unexpected occurrences. Can this become the norm or is it reserved for a select few? For Gap, the fire led to a response plan through problem solving that centered on its customers, employees, and its systems of operation. It was the best time to implement changes and find ways to improve the current modus operandi. The outcome was extremely successful. Gap became more efficient and cost effective, while increasing its volume of distribution and reassuring its employees of their job security. For Walter, his never-say-die-rocky-balboa attitude made him stand out. Where most of us would have stopped and succumbed to the current conditions, Walter stepped up to the challenge similar to how Lebron James often carries his team to victory in a game they had no chance of winning.
Outcomes are determined by outlook. In the Korean war, Colonel Lewis Burwell Puller’s 1st Marine Division had been surrounded. In what looked like an impending defeat, Col. Puller expressed a different outlook, “These poor men, they’ve got us right where we want them!” This kind of optimism is what bestselling author of Real Leadership, John Addison says people are naturally drawn to. Optimism and hopeful realism are magnetic.
Scientifically, optimists are less prone to depression, likely to live longer, and are resilient. Thomas Edison said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to try just one more time.” Stories like Walter Carr and Gap act as a lodestar for us to develop a positive outlook in the face of opposition.
Final thought: These real life stories remind us of the contrary winds of life. They teach us that by gaining a vantage point regarding our circumstances, we can discover who we really are and rise above the unexpected to become better versions of ourselves. In short, tough times don’t last but tough people do!
Keep on Keeping on!