- Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton
I felt awful.
And the worst part was, I didn't really have a good reason.
Oh, I knew the cause. A business deal I'd worked on for months had fallen through. A big one. I'd hatched the idea, bottle-fed it, and watched it grow with promise. Then, just as I was on the verge of putting it all together, the other side backed out. It had nothing to do with me; their financial condition had turned south.
On top of losing the deal, I felt like a hypocrite. Several months ago I had counseled my friend Bart, a sales rep, when he had cried on my shoulder after losing a big one. I told him to recognize that some things are outside of our control. But somehow, my own advice didn't make me feel any better.
In desperation, I called my friend, the King of Rational Thought. As usual, his response caught me totally by surprise.
"Do you compete in business?"
"Uh, well, yeah, of course. Everyone does," I replied.
"Do you feel better about yourself when you're winning the competition or losing it?" he asked.
"Well, when I'm winning, of course," I said. "Losing isn't much fun."
"And how do you view yourself when you're winning?"
I thought about it. "I guess I see myself as a winner; someone who's succeeding; someone who's making it."
"What about when you're losing?"
"You mean, like now?"
I thought some more. "I guess I feel like a loser; a failure."
"Take notes," he said. "You've just said that you feel like a winner when you're winning and a loser when you're losing. So how are you evaluating yourself?
I shook my head, phone and all. "Sorry. You'll have to help me out. I don't get it."
"You're evaluating yourself based on others," he said. "If you bid on some work and you don't get it, you feel like a loser. Conversely, if you get the work, you feel like a winner. So you're evaluating yourself based on the prospect's decision. True?"
"Ohh-kay," I said slowly. "But so what?"
"So your system is flawed," he replied. "Aren't you the same person whether your proposal is accepted or not?"
"Yet you evaluate yourself differently."
I held the phone to my ear for a full minute without moving, digesting it. He had a point. I still didn't feel better, but I had to admit, he had a point.
"So what's the answer?" I asked finally.
"What do you think?" he tossed back.
"I think I need a different approach," I said. "Maybe a different method of evaluation."
"Could be," said the King of Rational Thought. "Or better yet, why not give up self-evaluation altogether?"
I stared at the phone. "Huh?"
"Why not give up self-evaluation altogether?" he repeated. "The only important thing is your actions. You're mixing - as most of us do - you with your actions. Your actions are the only things you can do something about in all of this. So look at them instead. Forget evaluating yourself. Just look at what you did. You've already said that you did everything you could to get the deal. So, it fell through. That's life. The reason you keep feeling bad is that you keep evaluating yourself - not your actions, but yourself - in light of the result.
"Just imagine," he continued, "what your life would be like if you stopped evaluating yourself. You'd be rid of blame, probably lots of useless guilt, and a bunch of other emotions that don't benefit you. The only important question is, did you do the right thing? If so, great. If you made a mistake, then analyze how and why, and learn how to do it right the next time. If you'll do that, you'll start to feel better.
"And," he added, "you'll enjoy life a lot more."
I tried the King's advice and, a week later, I called Bart.
"Hey Bart," I said enthusiastically. "I've got some more great advice for you. You know how you were really bummed out about that big sale you lost a few months ago? Well, let me ask you a question. Do you feel better when you're winning sales, or losing them?..."