“See, that’s how it is…that’s what happens when you knock yourself out and do great work: They cut your budget! They reduce your headcount! I mean, why bother? Forget it.”
Or… “Oh great. This is what happens, right? I was right there for her. I helped her every way I could. I was a fantastic friend. And then she just cut me out of her life; dropped me like a hot potato, kaput, just like that! Are you kidding? I’m not doing that again.”
I hear some version of these complaints all the time. People make an heroic effort, do a good job or be a good friend…go the full distance for something or someone – and bang! The rug gets pulled out. And the very good person who’s done a very good job – or the very kind person who’s done a really beautiful, selfless thing – too often thinks, “See? That’s what happens. That’s how it works. Forget it.”
And that’s a shame – not the hard work and the budget cut; not the selfless gesture and the bewildering rejection – but the conclusion we make of it…the “See, that’s what happens!” verdict. I call these conclusions “phony equations.” Basically, it goes like this: X (our hard work, good deeds) + Y (the “bad” thing that happens) = Z (Reality)…in other words, “the way it is.” And if we make “the way it is” negative, we walk into the next promising meeting or the next promising relationship with cynicism, or a chip on our shoulders. And I don’t have to tell you where that leads. But I will anyway: The “Z” you choose to end your equation with becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy – since we pretty much get what we expect – in our work, our relationships…our lives.
And here’s the thing: That negative “reality?” Most of the time it really is phony and has nothing to do with actual fact. It usually turns out that here are other forces that caused that “Z,” not the one you made up: The cuts, painful as they were, were unavoidable – and had nothing to do with your hard work…which was actually very much appreciated. The breakup of the relationship came, not as a result of your affection and kindnesses which were gratefully received, but because of some sort of personal situations you don’t know about – and probably never will.
Phony equations pop up in all areas of our lives. Actually, they don’t “pop up,” we make them up. And we make ourselves really unhappy or “right about how wrong it is” (or “they” are…) for no good reason. And worse, we can get a whole bunch of people to agree with us that “It’s just not worth it!” And then what happens? We opt out of the game. We blow our new chances to add new value, to take the next hill or to make a difference in somebody’s else’s life. All because of some phony equation we made up and bought into.
But what if we re-wrote that equation? What if we made up a different “conclusion,” a totally different “Z” – one that didn’t make everything wrong, unfair and inevitable, but one that made it understandable – one that assumed the “bad” thing happened for reasons totally outside our control and had absolutely nothing to do with us? What if we totally avoided becoming disillusioned, disempowered, disgusted or disengaged and instead got back in the game and played it for all we were worth? Life’s “equations” are made up. So make ‘em up good.
Oh, and next time you’re tempted to say, “No good deed goes unpunished,” zip it.