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The Immortal Lesson of 'Try, Try Again'

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If you’re anything like me, you love the New Year. It’s a clean slate—a fresh chance to lose weight, get more organized and learn a new skill. Nearly half of us make resolutions like these, and during that first week in January, we’re our best selves. Nothing can stop us! 

Then February arrives and life gets in the way.

Here we are about four weeks into 2016. How are those resolutions coming along? If you're one of the 8 percent of Americans on their way to succeeding with their resolution, congratulations! Keep doing what you’re doing, and pat yourself on the back. However, if you’re part of the other 92 percent, don’t beat yourself up. All it means is we have some experience falling short of the mark.

Setbacks happen to the best of us. Look at Oprah; she was fired from one of her first jobs for being “unfit for TV.” Walt Disney was once let go because he “lacked imagination,” and Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school—three times! However, as we now know, their disappointments were gifts that propelled them toward success. Had they handled those same hurdles in other ways, though, their stories could have ended very differently.

Not only do challenges have a dramatic influence on what happens next in our lives, they can also determine how others perceive our intelligence. In the workplace, how people respond to negative feedback can be a major determinant of career success. So, the next time you fall, first remember you’re in good company, then walk yourself through these steps.

Take a Deep Breath

BOOM. You landed on your face, and it feels like the walls are crumbling around you. Instead of giving in to temptation and yelling, crying and pitching a fit, close your eyes, roll your shoulders a few times, and breathe.

Getting upset and acting impulsively will do nothing but intensify an already tough situation. Instead, try to stay calm and reflect on what led you to where you are now. Decisions on how to remedy what’s happened can – and should – come later. 

According to an article by Ben Dattner and Robert Hogan in the Harvard Business Review

“It’s not always possible to right the wrong, but it’s almost always possible to make things worse by overreacting in a highly charged situation.”

Own Your Shortcomings

After you’ve calmed down, analyze your role in the situation. This type of introspection and self-awareness is vital in handling adversity. After all, if you aren’t aware of a mistake or your role in it, how can you learn from it? According to clinical psychologist Joseph Luciani in an article for U.S. News & World Report:

“Living without self-awareness is like driving your car at night with the headlights off; technically, you can still drive, but you will eventually have a collision. With awareness, you shed light on your destructive, reflexive habits and thinking and on any self-sabotaging mind games at play. When it comes to self-sabotage, mindless capitulation to destructive impulses is your number one enemy.”

Personality tests, such as the Big Five, can be a good way for us to increase our self-awareness. By reflecting and learning more about ourselves, we can begin to recognize and (more important) admit when we’ve swung and missed. However, this can be easier said than done because most of us are hardwired to react to negative feedback with deflection and denial.

An article titled "3 Ways to Seem Smarter" by Hogan Assessment Systems Inc., reports,

“A 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people – especially those with greater-than-average intellect – were prone to what they referred to as the bias blind spot, our tendency to naturally assume that everyone else is more susceptible to thinking errors than ourselves.”

In addition to self-awareness, we also need political awareness. While self-awareness helps us understand what messages we’re sending, political awareness helps us understand how others are receiving those messages. This is especially important in the workplace. It's important we figure out the right way to approach obstacles in our own organizations, departments and roles.

Ask for Assistance

The next step in turning a negative into a positive is asking for feedback and, if necessary, for help. The Hogan article also tells us,

“The fact is, people who genuinely engage with negative feedback are more likely to learn from their mistakes and avoid making them again. And, a study conducted by Harvard Business School and Wharton School showed that people perceive us as more competent when we seek their advice. ‘If you act modest, even if it is faked modesty, people tend to add 20-30% of competence to your claims,’ said Dr. [Tomas] Chamorro-Premuzic.”

And to turn the table, it’s important we offer honest feedback when we’re asked for it. One of the greatest gifts we can give to others – if we’re truly engaged in their success – is constructive criticism. One of the most important steps I take with my team is a little post-project analysis: If something didn't go as expected, I try to approach it as an opportunity to learn, to truly learn what happened.

Do it All Over Again

Lastly, after you’ve successfully navigated the tumultuous waters of a massive mistake, you should vow to never err again. Right?

Wrong.

Just because we've struck out once doesn't mean we should stop taking risks! I believe one of the main reasons our beloved Kansas City Royals won the World Series was their aggressiveness at the plate. They were always willing to swing the bat. Heck, Alcides Escobar became known for swinging at the first pitch of every game! You, too, have to be willing to “swing the bat” every chance you get: A strike out is possible, but so is a home run.

Trust me, I get it. Being willing to get back up time and again takes “salt.” It takes courage, resiliency and perseverance. These attributes don’t always come naturally, but boy, when they surface, they’re forces to be reckoned with!

So as we work our way through 2016, we should continue to work toward the lofty resolutions we made a few weeks ago. But if we stumble, we should make the most of it instead of hanging our heads. Setbacks can be scary, but they can also be our greatest gift.

How have you learned from your challenges? Let us know @CountryClubBank!

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Toni Walsh

Executive Vice President- Human Resources

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