I like routines. I like processes. I like repeatability, since doing the small things right, over and over again, tends to lead to success.

So I consciously choose to stay "surface" as much as possible. If I think about how I feel about working a couple more hours...I might not stay the course. If I think about how tough a workout will be...I might not go to the gym. If I think about how much I still have to write to finish a book...I might not ever finish it.

Sometimes thinking gets in the way of working.

So I try to focus on doing what I need to do right now. Since I'm not particularly smart or talented--in fact, I'm decidedly average--consistency is the key. 

And for the most part, consistency works.

Until it doesn't. 

***

I was in the running for a really cool project. Interesting work, interesting people. 

I wanted it.

Didn't get it.

Got a little mad. Felt a lot hurt. Couldn't understand why they didn't pick me.

Upon reflection, there were several good reasons. Including the fact that the person they chose was better. But in the moment, all I felt was the pain of rejection.

So I started to write the same short email I always write in those situations to close the loop. Something along the lines of, "Thanks for considering me." 

And then I thought about this Deepak Chopra quote:

"Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future."

And I realized that in this case, consistency would leave me a prisoner of the past. Closing the loop meant closing the loop.

So I sent this instead:

To be frank, I'm not surprised. [Jane Doe] is awesome. And while I hate to admit it, overall she is a better fit.

But it's also a huge project, and there are a few areas where I think I could really help...so if it turns out that you and she could use a little assistance, please let me know. It's a cool project, one I would love to be a part of even in some small way.

And if not, best of luck. Although you won't need it.

As it turned out--because this is not that kind of story--they didn't need my help.

But they might have.

And by reacting in a different way, by not reacting in the "same old way" and closing the loop, I left room for that possibility.

Instead of shutting a door, I left room for a possible future.

***

The past is just training. You can learn from it. But it only informs your future--it doesn't define it. 

And it doesn't define you.

When something bad happens, see it as an opportunity to learn something you didn't know. When another person makes a mistake, learn from it...and see it as an opportunity to forgive and understand.

As the Stoics would say, "I can never control all the things around me, but I can always control how I think, and respond, and act."

You can be a prisoner of your past.

Or a pioneer of your future.

The cool thing is, you get to choose.

Published on: Jul 12, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.