When our oldest son, Chris, was seven years old, he played on a baseball team… a bad baseball team. I know, at that age it should be all about having fun. Parents were not having much fun, though, as the team struggled to improve. The low point of the season was a 19-0 blowout loss. I dreaded the ride home- how would I console my child who had just been on the wrong end of a resounding defeat?
The game is memorable because of something Chris blurted out from the back seat. He exclaimed “that was a great game!” My wife and I looked at each other wondering what game he was talking about. It couldn’t have been the one he just played! Yet, in his mind it was a great game. He never explained why he felt that way, but I am glad he did. Chris’s outlook determined the outcome of the game in terms of its impact on him. Others were keeping score, but he felt a different outcome because of a different view of what made for a great game.
Life in the Gutter
I often think of that lopsided defeat Chris’s baseball team experienced and his refreshing take on the outcome. Chris’s outlook is echoed in the words of playwright and poet Oscar Wilde. We are all in the gutter, perhaps not all the time, but we face adversity and setbacks that place us in that gutter. Sometimes, we wonder if it is possible to get up and out of the gutter- a lost job, failed relationship, or unsuccessful business venture- and some people take up residence there.
It is helpful to realize that falling into the gutter is normal and is not a matter of your life being jinxed. They say two things in life are certain: death and taxes. We should add a third thing to the list because adversity will land your doorstep. There is nothing akin to an ad blocker or do-not-call list to keep adversity out of your life. You will take up residence in the gutter. The frequency of visits and length of stay will depend largely on your outlook toward the situation.
What is the deciding factor in how things turn out when you find yourself in the gutter of adversity? Your outlook on the situation. As much as you might want to blame a boss, a bully, or the government for your woes, none of them will pull you out of the gutter. No one else has more at stake for you to bounce back than you.
The gutter can be a slimy, unpleasant place. I want out as soon as I realize I’m there. The content of your self-talk can be the difference between looking at the stars or getting acclimated to your surroundings in the gutter. I find three reminders helpful to help pull me out of the gutter:
- Being in the gutter is normal. I would be more concerned about someone if they told me they had never faced adversity or felt like they were in the gutter. If you never find yourself in the gutter, you are not trying hard enough!
- I’ve been here before. Since being in the gutter is normal, you should expect to find yourself there from time to time. It is an acknowledgement that is easier to make the older and more experienced you are. You can recall setbacks and remember you were able to overcome them.
- I have control over when I get out. This point can be the hardest to accept. And, it can also be the hardest to implement. Realizing adversity is normal and that you have felt it before takes self-awareness. Buying in to the idea you have control over managing the effects of the adversity you face is more challenging. Unfortunately, in extreme cases some people refuse to believe they have control. Someone or something wants to keep them down; trying to fight it is futile.
Embrace the Gutter
The words of Oscar Wilde will come to mind anytime I find myself in the gutter of adversity. Being there is not uncommon, but I have an opportunity to craft a unique response to the adversity. It will not only free me, but the response to adversity will shape my personal brand story. While I don’t seek out chances to wallow in the gutter, I will not be fearful when it happens, either. Open your eyes, look up toward the stars, and see the possibilities beyond the adversity.