Sunday, March 8, 2015

Learn from Negative Experiences

Nobody likes adversity, failure, or problems that disrupt one's life. Nevertheless, it is also true that nobody escapes them entirely. We all lose family members and friends along the way. We have illnesses. We lose jobs. But the thing that matters, and the thing that separates the winners in life from the losers, is how we respond to the challenges.

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian Psychiatrist who was sent to Auschwitz by the Nazis during World War II. He arrived knowing the likelihood that he would never leave alive, but he set for himself three goals: 1) to find work in the camp, 2) to survive, and 3) to see what he could learn. He knew that if he worked, did something useful, it would reduce the probability that he would be executed, so that it actually supported the second objective. And the third objective was truly that of a winner.

And learn he did. He learned that the one factor separating those who survived and those who did not was that the survivors had some future that they looked forward to with eagerness and this gave them the drive to do positive things that the prison camp officials saw as useful.

Frankl wrote the now famous book, "Man's Search for Meaning," in which he said that human beings need meaning in their lives in order to thrive. Given meaning in life, they can withstand almost anything that life throws at them.

So there are two questions each of us should ask ourselves:
  1. Do you have meaning in your life, and if not, how can you find it?
  2. How do you react to the trials of life? By complaining, or by asking what you can learn and how you can best respond to the trial?
When you apply this as a project manager, you may want to ask how meaningful is the work you are doing in the project. Will the product or service provided enrich the lives of others? Does it make a contribution to your organization?

And how do you handle problems in projects? Do you respond pro-actively and positively? If not, can you change this by seeing each issue as an opportunity to learn?

I met a project manager once who stepped on a land mine in Vietnam and lost both legs. He was unusually unruffled by project issues, and when I mentioned this, he replied, "I figured after surviving that land mine nothing much worse could happen to me, so I don't let the small things bother me."

Don't sweat the small stuff! Great advice.

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