How Outcomes Feel Depends on Whether We Chose Them
Control matters — sometimes it’s best to have none
You just bought new glasses. You felt like treating yourself. It was time. You went to the store, found a pretty design, and you walked out of there feeling like a king.
One week later, your glasses break. You’re disappointed. You go back to the store, and, of course, they instantly replace them. You’re glad the problem is fixed, but you don’t feel the same. You don’t have that glow from the first time. The I’m-a-new-person feeling.
But they’re still new glasses. Shouldn’t you be excited? Why is this different?
This time, you didn’t choose to get glasses. Life made you, and it felt like a burden. It’s easy to understand why your emotions vary in these two situations, but, objectively, the outcome is the exact same.
The opportunity here is to adjust your emotions. Depending on how you contextualize said outcome, they too could be the same. You can taint the memory of your initial purchase by adding the bitter flavor of the second. Or you can elevate the replacement to another new-glasses experience.
When you dissect the outcome a bit more, many points speak for doing the latter. Having the time to buy new glasses is a privilege. So is having the money. You had both — twice in one week. You didn’t have to. You got to.
You got to take a walk or ride a bus to a pretty store filled with beautifully designed accessories. You got to talk to kind, helpful staff, who helped you pick a frame that not just fits but accentuates your face. You got to experience modern service culture. Chances are, your glasses took an hour to make. Not a week. Did you pay by card? Get a discount? Free eye check? Wow! And, of course, you got to walk out of that place with new glasses twice.
It’s a bit like David Dudley asking us to learn from dogs in a tribute to his late golden retriever: “When someone you love walks in through the door, even if it happens five times a day, go totally insane with joy.”
If an outcome objectively makes your life better, it should also improve your emotional state. Sometimes, ensuring the latter is the harder part of the job — but it’s still the right job to be doing.
What about the other side of the coin? What about adversity?
It sucks to be responsible for the million-dollar deal falling through. You had everything you needed. The materials. The terms. The right relationships with the right people. But you missed one detail and it made all the difference.
When we make mistakes, it’s important to not get carried away too soon. Don’t ride the impulse wave just yet. Don’t point fingers before you look in the mirror. Otherwise, you won’t learn anything. You won’t make better mistakes tomorrow. Only once we’ve extracted the lesson can we stop trying to control.
At other times, we never controlled the negative outcome to begin with. You didn’t unleash the virus. You didn’t ask your biggest client to cancel. The outcome is the same. The papers aren’t signed. Hands don’t shake. The deal is off the table.
Now, however, the lack of control offers comfort. It makes it easier to move on. There are still lessons to be learned. About preparation, diversification, and acceptance. But it’s easier to learn them when shame’s not in the way. There’s nothing to hide or feel guilty about. You can focus on learning.
As with the glasses, however, some of that same comfort is available to you even when you’re the one to blame. Imagine this: You don’t like your job. You go in feeling unappreciated, spend your day crunching numbers you don’t enjoy, and go home drained and tired.
One day, you quit. You feel empowered for a second. Then, reality kicks in: “Oh no! What have I done? Where is my rent going to come from?” You fall into a scarcity mindset, and perfectionism and procrastination make it hard to find a new gig. Your freelance business is not taking off. Why did you bring this upon yourself? If only you hadn’t quit.
But what if, two days before you wrote your resignation, your boss had fired you? What if someone else made the decision? Same outcome, entirely different feelings. Instead of empowerment, you might have felt shock. But then, rather than spiraling, you might take the injustice as inspiration. You’d rest more. Take a breather. And then show everyone what you’re made of.
Sometimes, it’s better to have no control. But it might be enough to pretend you had none. Just for a moment. So you can see the lesson. Then, take responsibility and move on.
Objectivity is great when it serves your becoming better. If it doesn’t, a subjective pinch might do the trick. At the end of the day, outcomes are just outcomes. That’s the truest thing I can say about them.
What we do with our outcomes is a matter of managing ourselves. Our minds, beliefs, and emotions. If we do this important work, every day offers new opportunities to grow. We might not always walk out of the store feeling like a king, but we’ll never lose that I’m-a-new-person feeling.