In business, are you the bug or the windshield?

“Some days you’re a bug. Some days you’re a windshield.” — Price Cobb, after winning a car race in 1988

We all have had those days when we are the bug. Nothing goes right. One negative experience leads to the next. Even the simplest task becomes impossible. The world is coming down around us. The question is: WHAT TO DO?

I truly do not remember where I first heard the quote below, but I can say that it has been an attitude and lifesaver for me when things go south:

“It’s not what you have that counts, it’s what you do with what you have.”

Several years ago, I had negotiated the biggest corporate training contract that I’d ever put together. It was with a Fortune 500 company. As part of the contract, I had already interviewed dozens of people. I had also conducted focus groups with selected teams. Hours were spent on tailoring a very specific solution for what the client was trying to achieve in building the leadership skills of its key people. We were actually two weeks away from starting the formal training process, and then it happened.

I received a call from my key contact, the vice president of human resources. Instinctively, just from the tone of his voice, I knew that this call was not going to be good. With humility and much apology, he let me know that corporate had just put a hold on all outside training — contract or no contract. The signed contract we had was solid and I could have taken the decision to court. However, as a small business owner I figured my odds against this large organization were not very good. I decided it was best to accept the turn of events. He did agree to pay for all the expenses that had transpired to date.

Immediately after I hung up the phone, I was 100 percent “the bug,” as noted above. I stayed in my office and stewed for about an hour before I woke up to the fact that tomorrow is another day — another day for opportunity. I started calling my best clients just to talk. I did not tell them what had happened. We just discussed where they were at and what was going well in their organizations. I did receive some pretty positive feedback during these calls. These discussions ultimately pulled me out of my funk and got me back in the right frame of mind.

Going back to the second quote above, I was dealt a pretty negative blow with that phone call. I could let that moment (“what you have”) take control, or I could take charge of my own attitude (“what you do with what you have”). The latter direction was clearly the better and wiser choice.

On the flip side of the above situation is the opposite, when things go really, really well. This actually happened to me several years ago, when many of the training contracts we were working on all came to fruition almost at the same time. We were incredibly busy and making a very good income for quite a while as a result. We were the “windshield.” What we did not do was rest on our laurels and just take care of this new business. We continued to work aggressively on generating even more. There is a tendency to enjoy the ride when things go well. That’s OK, but you better darn well keep doing the things that generated the business in the first place.

The moral of both stories: Whether you are the bug — it can’t possibly be worse — or the windshield — it doesn’t get any better than this — remember that you and only you control your attitude. Always stay in charge!

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