A reality of life is that sometimes we really want certain things to happen that don’t end up happening. In our professional lives we may very much want to get a promotion or a new job or a transfer to another city or a particular project assignment. Similarly, we might get a promotion, but not succeed in the role. Sometimes we get what we want and sometimes we don’t. Over time, what really matters, however, is not what happens, but how we take advantage of what happens.
Using a new job or a promotion, for example, to reinvent our selves or to broaden our skill sets is a wonderful opportunity. Ironically, though, we often benefit most when something doesn’t turn out how we had hoped!
There are a few reasons for that. One is that when things don’t work out, we have an opportunity for self-reflection as to why they didn’t work out; to learn how we would do something differently in the future and this knowledge increases our likelihood of success the next time around. Another reason is that sometimes we are drawn to new opportunities, not because they are better, but simply because they are new. New is great for awhile, but if there isn’t something fundamentally better about the opportunity, we often end up surrendering seniority, long term relationships, and corporate knowledge, and the benefits those things offer, in return for novelty that will likely not sustain us well over the long haul. However, the most important reason that we often benefit more when something doesn’t turn out the way we would have liked is because, by definition, an infinite number of other opportunities remain or become viable that would have been eliminated had we made another commitment. In other words, when something doesn’t work out, we have traded one opportunity for many possibilities.
We understand this intuitively. Most of us have had a “thank God” moment when something didn’t work out, either because we found out later it wasn’t what we thought it was or we found a better opportunity later on that wouldn’t have been available if the first one had “worked out.”
If we approach our professional (and personal) lives with an additive perspective (what’s possible and positive) vs. a subtractive perspective (what’s missing or what we didn’t get), it is inevitable that we will be grateful that some things didn’t work out the way we wanted!