Have you ever made big plans and then had life remind you that you’re not in control? These setbacks are especially tough because they create distractions that prevent you from focusing on the real prize.
A perfect example of this dilemma was during one of the most pivotal moments in my professional career when I missed out on an opportunity to become president of one of Comcast’s divisions.
I had joined the cable industry as a regional vice president for Telecommunications, Inc. (TCI), which later was purchased by AT&T. I soon became the senior vice president of AT&T Broadband’s “Atlanta cluster,” and I stayed in Georgia as regional senior vice president of the Mid-South after AT&T Broadband merged with Comcast.
The next logical step up was president of one of Comcast’s divisions, so I worked hard toward that goal. When one of those roles opened, however, I didn’t even get a chance to toss my hat into the ring for consideration.
Instead, the job went to a former employee who had worked for me at AT&T Broadband. He had joined Comcast as a regional senior vice president about six months prior to the merger, so we were peers when the two companies became one. Now he was moving up, and I was staying put.
It stung to feel passed over, and I battled with giving in to a victim mentality. I had to ask myself what I had done or not done that had cost me the promotion.
I’m not saying the other person wasn’t qualified. He was extremely qualified. But I had paid my dues and had a stellar track record. I knew in my heart that I was ready for the challenge of running a division. It just didn’t feel fair—and, frankly, it hurt.
Part of me wanted to dust off my résumé and look for a different employer, and part of me wanted to stay angry and lash out at anyone who crossed my path.
Instead, I reflected on three practices that helped me focus on the (real) prize:
- Identify your sideshows.
What are sideshows? Anything that distracts us from focusing on our why. Sideshows can take on many forms, depending on the situation. In this case, my sideshow was my hurt ego. I was distracted by worrying about what others thought of me and whether they had concerns that prevented me from getting the promotion I wanted. Eventually, with constructive input from others, I turned that worrying mindset into something I could control: my effort. I began to ask and answer with the help of my colleagues: “What do I need to do to better prepare myself for the next opportunity? And will that chance be better suited to impacting more people?” (Most real prizes involve serving others.)
- Have a good chip on your shoulder.
The dictionary defines “a chip on your shoulder” this way: “to seem angry all the time because you think you have been treated unfairly or feel you are not as good as other people.” My chip about this promotion could have become a distraction to my fight if I hadn’t made sure it was a good chip, not a bad chip. In other words, I couldn’t let it make me angry, bitter, and resentful. A good chip motivates us to win—but to win the right way and win the right things. It doesn’t lead to fights; it supports our why—in my case, a passion for bringing people to a table of prosperity. No one would want to join me at that table if I had a bad chip on my shoulder.
- Create an environment that supports your fight.
Once we know our fight and the distractions that tend to take us off track, we can build boundaries and processes that keep us focused. I do this in several ways. For instance, I try to be the “chief repeater” of my fight. This can occur in the normal course of conversations with other people, or it might come during my private moments. Consistently repeating the key messages of my life helps create a positive environment in my mind, especially when it seems like the world around me is in chaos.
I also do this by establishing what many leaders call a “kitchen cabinet”—a group of trusted advisers who know what’s important to me, know my strengths and weaknesses, and know that they have the freedom to set me straight when I go astray or lose sight of my real prize.
You can bet that I consulted my kitchen cabinet about this setback and how to proceed. They helped me see past the setback and see better opportunities on the horizon to serve even more people at my table of prosperity. Within two years, I became president of the West Division at Comcast, which was the right place and right time for me and the company, and I was better suited to the challenge.
If you’ve experienced those moments when life reminds you that you’re not in control, consider testing these three practices that work for me. There are two more I explore in my book in chapter 5. I encourage you to read the full story and tell me what you think of these practices and whether they help you focus on your real prize!
Live your why,
P.S. I’m excited to announce that I have released a new set of videos in partnership with RightNow Media, a media outlet providing faith-based content for millions of subscribers. To learn more, visit their website here.
PLUS, enter to win my celebratory drawing for an Uncompromising“Mastermind Package” for you and four of your favorite teammates, colleagues, or book club friends. Get five free copies of my book and the discussion guides detailing each pathway, plus a free online session with me to discuss the book and best practices. Good luck, and I look forward to chatting with the winning group!