Car Trouble = Opportunity
One of the recurring themes we’ve discussed on the podcast is that whenever we, and by we I mean all of us human beings, embark on an excellence project, inevitably we encounter challenges and obstacles. Sometimes those come in direct opposition to what we’re trying to accomplish: injuring your knee when you’re trying to train to run your first ever 5K. Sometimes the challenges come from the fact that we all wear more than one “hat” at any point in our lives and things maybe spill over from one area to another: a family member is struggling with depression which makes your success at work bittersweet. Sometimes stuff just happens that’s not really in your control.
Yesterday was a great example of this in my own life.
Since Enoch and I started the Your Excellence Project podcast, I feel like things in my life have been relatively smooth. In my most important roles, husband and father, I felt like things were going pretty good. Things at work have been great with my new role, I actually look forward to doing the things I’m being paid to do. In my personal development, I’ve been losing weight (little bit of plateau, but that’s expected), I’ve been able to work on some other personal goals, developing better habits, that kind of thing. Not too shabby, and I was grateful and did my best to express my gratitude every day.
Yesterday, Friday, the end of a good, solid week of work, progress, excellence.
And then my car went kaput.
Now, the car in question has put in many good years of service for our family. And admittedly, I am not the best at car maintenance, so it’s entirely likely that the whole “ounce of prevention = a pound of cure” thing is in play.
But MAN, what a major bummer! I was NOT a happy camper. I was frustrated, angry, embarrassed, and thinking “man, I KNEW things were going too well lately!” I called my wife and could tell by her response to me that I wasn’t hiding my emotions effectively. Sigh.
As I sat there waiting for my wife to bring our van by to try to jump the car, my mind kept going to worst case scenarios: how much is this gonna cost, how am I getting to work on Monday, etc. etc. I tried to distract myself by playing a game on my phone to pass the time. It mostly worked until my wife got there and I had to re-engage with the problem.
We exhausted our piddly knowledge of automobile repair and maintenance within about 2 minutes, maybe less. No luck getting the car started. Some kind of battery electrical problem. Mostly avoided an argument. We pushed the car over to the side of the street, parked it and locked it, and left it.
Nothing crazy bad, right? Nothing life threatening, nothing evil.
So why would anyone allow something so minor to derail their progress, their excellence?
And yet we all know there are things like this that we ALLOW to get in the way, all the time.
Looking back I can recognize that there was a moment of choice, a moment where I could choose to linger on the negativity or choose to let it go and move on. I was about ready to let the anger and frustration get to me, I was ready to choose to be angry the rest of the day.
To be honest, my initial choice was to linger. My initial choice was to wallow and worry.
But like all things, that moment passed and another moment of opportunity came. And I’m grateful I had the chance to re-think my thinking and make a different choice, a choice that would lead me back towards positivity and gratitude and hopefully excellence.
The key is choice. It pretty much all boils down to choice. And each and every moment of our day is a choice. Each choice we make in the right direction is a success. String a whole lot of successful choices together throughout the day, you gain momentum and inertia is on your side. Your excellence is in motion, and it takes less effort to make the right choice because you’re starting to form habits, when we can leverage habits to our advantage. And hopefully the pattern of excellence just starts to blossom throughout all facets of life.
Cool story bro, right? Like that would EVER happen to me, right?
Inevitably a hiccup happens, cars break down, injuries happen for no good reason, the weather doesn’t cooperate with your plans, the doctor comes into the room to deliver the bad news.
That’s when the choice happens. And when you have power. And you can be accountable for your choice. And excellence is born and built in those moments.
I don’t want to demean or belittle anyone’s challenges, please don’t take what I’m saying that way. But until we can understand these moments as opportunities, anytime we make any progress in our individual excellence projects and THEN suffer some sort of setback we will be more likely to fail (to me failure = choosing the opposite of excellence) because we likely won’t take control of our lives and exercise the greatest power we all have, the power to choose, even to choose our thoughts and our emotions.
If I had to boil excellence down to it’s simplest form, for me excellence is about consistently making conscious choices that lead you in the right direction. And I believe this is a skill that can be learned and developed.
Which means, then, that my car breaking down presented me with an opportunity to be excellent. Every challenge we face in our lives are opportunities to be excellent. I believe that the better we can get at recognizing this, the sooner we will be able to make the necessary shifts in our decision making that lead to excellence.
EPILOGUE: I love my father-in-law. I’m so lucky to have married into my wife’s family. He came by today to take a look at the car, and ends up we just needed to clean some of that green gunk off the cables. Simple, cheap, quick solution. Thanks dad!
But now the “Service Engine” light is on…hrmm…