Sometimes things just happen

A main theme of past articles has been to remind ourselves that when difficult situations arise, it’s not a productive reaction to have blaming thoughts about other people and what others should have done. Rather, we look first at ourselves: “What was my part in this? “What could I have done differently?”

To build on that, we want to talk about the fact that, even though most of the time we have a part in things (it isn’t just the other guy), sometimes things do just happen that truly are out of our control. The question then becomes, what do we do next in that situation? That shows our accountability or lack of it.

  • Your manager does something that really messes up what you were working on
  • You’re stuck in an airport for seven hours because of weather
  • Someone doesn’t do what they’re supposed to do

These things just happened. What you do next shows your accountability.

Do you remember the story of Candy Lightner? She is the founder of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. In 1980, a drunk driver killed her 13 year old daughter, Cari. Just two days before killing Cari, the drunk driver had been released on bail after a hit and run accident. He had multiple DUI accidents and convictions on his record, and yet was allowed to keep his license. MADD is how Candy Lightner chose to deal with her loss: “I promised myself on the day of Cari’s death that I would fight to make this needless homicide count for something in the years ahead.”

Since its inception, MADD has reduced alcohol-related traffic deaths by 40 percent, and saved more than 300,000 lives. MADD has three million members and more than 600 local chapters throughout North America.

This was the choice Candy Lightner made. She could have been paralyzed with grief and the unfairness of the situation. She could have devoted her energy to ensuring the driver was punished. But instead she focused on founding MADD and changing things.

“The difficult things in life–the tragedies, the disasters, the illnesses–don’t make us who we are. Rather they reveal who we’ve been all along.”

So when things happen that are totally out of our control, what do we do next? This shows the quality of our character and our accountability. If people can do this in unbelievably difficult life situations like Candy Lightner did (and many people reading this article have done), then surely in our day-to-day work challenges we can skip the complaining and blaming and ask instead, “What can I do next? How can I move things forward?”

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