Life never goes as expected. It’s easy to build out a plan and think that every variable and outcome is accounted for. For those who have tried, 100% certainty is never the case.
When life throws a curve ball, it helps to take a step back and identify the issue. What are the repercussions? And more importantly: what are the corrective actions that need to take place?
Here’s a mental framework I’ve learned from a mentor who has helped me at critical junctures in my life to identify and resolve these issues.
When a situation arises, it typically falls into one of three categories:
A distraction is something that gets in the way of a primary objective. Think of a billboard on the side of a road. Is a billboard going to prevent you from getting to point A to point B? It shouldn’t. That’s a distraction.
Most issues that may seem like a big deal are often times distractions. In the business world, if a new competitor enters the market, are they truly going to disrupt your business or are they simply distracting you from your own path to success? If you stay focused on a distraction for too long, you’re inevitably going to crash.
The key to working through a distraction is to eliminate it from your field of vision, then refocus your efforts on what matters.
In the early days of my career, I was working at a company operating in a very new and upcoming industry. There were competitors popping up left and right, all seeming to believe they had the right answers and solution for the market (think of it as the blockchain industry but a decade ago). It could have been easy to abandon our approach and imitate those of our competitors – to fall into the hole of a distraction, but at the end of the day, no one really knew the right answer because everything was so new. By staying focused, we were able to continue the steady growth of our company, a company that exists to this day while many others have fizzled out.
A detour is a reroute – it may take longer to reach the final destination, but it’s still attainable.
Unlike a distraction, a detour requires additional time and effort in order to get from point A to point B. Startups typically face the greatest amount of detours because until they find market fit, they’re continually having to pivot based on new information gathered. The mission still stays the same, the journey to get there is different.
The key to successfully navigating through a detour is understanding you may need to devote additional time and resources to make the plan work, but as long as you continue moving forward, you’ll emerge from the other side victorious. To give up is your greatest detriment, to continue is what guarantees success.
The last scenario is a dead end. Contrary to detours or distractions, a dead end means there’s no way the current path leads to the final objective. Dead ends may mean bringing a new product to market that gets no reception no matter how many pivots. It could mean investing in a relationship that will never come to fruition. At the end of the day: it’s not going to work.
Dead ends typically mean having to back track and, often times, start from scratch.
The key to successfully overcoming a dead end may often mean having to extend beyond yourself to bring in outside help. People reach dead ends because their perspective and expertise is limited (which is what got them there in the first place). When you’ve reached a dead end, you may need to bring in friends or family, hire outside consultants, strategists, or advisors to come in and reverse what you’ve done. Then find an alternative path to success.
In conclusion, life throws many distractions, detours and dead ends in a never-ending cycle in this journey we call life. It’s our job to decipher and know the difference between them.
The greatest lesson we can strive to accomplish on this path is not to wallow in the severity of a detour or dead end, and perhaps not even place our hopes and dreams in the success of an outcome, but learn to find joy and peace in the discovery of the journey.
As they say, sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about the destination.