In life, we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can always choose our response to it.
It was apparent at an early age that I was gifted with an abundance of energy. During my first years of elementary school, my teachers enjoyed my creativity and enthusiasm. However, my third grade teacher found my gregarious nature to be a bit challenging—so she tried something different.
When my Mom and Dad came to the parent teacher conferences that fall, they walked around the classroom looking for my desk. “Where’s Mike’s desk?” my Dad asked. “Oh,” said the teacher, “I put his desk back there,” pointing to the back of the room.
My parents walked back to find that my desk had been placed behind a folding screen. As they looked at my space, they smiled at each other. I had decorated the whole inside of the screen with pictures of rainbows, smiling faces, and other colorful drawings. There was even a sign that read, Mike’s Place.
During the conference, they learned that my teacher’s plan to isolate my enthusiasm had backfired. Seeing what I created had prompted other kids to ask, “When do we get our turn in the back?”
My resilient creative spirit had decided to make the best of the situation. Instead of this event being an obstacle, it became an opportunity to create my own office.
As an adult, that experience still rings true for me today. So, taking cues from my 8-year-old self, here are a few ways to make lemonade from life lemons—to reframe potentially negative experiences into positive ones:
Think: It could be worse. It really could. In fact, many of the things we complain about aren’t really problems but rather first-world inconveniences. Issues like cars that don’t start; cold water instead of hot; and burned toast are simply irritations. Try visiting an impoverished part of the city or traveling to a third-world country to get a dose of humility and perspective. We have plenty to appreciate.
Try: Softening your stance. Some of the best advice I ever received was to “Soften my stance.” Basically, this means staying determined but reconsidering our approach. There are many different ways to address any given situation, so sometimes if we step back, take a deep breath, and reconsider our choices before acting or speaking, we can create the momentum for a different result.
Ask: What have I learned? It is said, “Hindsight is 20/20,” what about foresight? If we can look backwards to learn from our past problems, then we can we look forward to knowing that we will create new solutions—although we may not yet know how. All of our life experiences have the potential to be life lessons. Paying attention to these lessons can bring us new knowledge and expand our creativity.
Remember: “What doesn’t kill you…” Recall the expression, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” as a poignant reminder that we are always growing and expanding in all ways. Each of our experiences—especially the difficult ones—have made us stronger and wiser. Think back to the biggest events of your life and appreciate how they’ve changed you and made you more resilient.
Now when life hands you lemons, remind yourself that you have the power to respond to the situation in many ways. You can step into any situation and have the confidence and assurance that things will eventually work out for the best. You can learn to make lemonade.
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg helps people navigate through transitions in work, relationships, and life. Find more at michaelsunnarborg.com
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