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Rational thinking is my “call a friend” strategy when things go bust.

Rational thinking is my “call a friend” strategy when things go bust.

When something goes awry, instead of focusing on the problem, try seeing it as an opportunity.

One of the best things about being human is that we are endowed with a capacity for reason. We can see something, reflect upon it, make sense of it and choose to act on it. Emotions also make us very special in that we can feel compassion and act upon that too. Yet emotions can feel confusing and take us off course by distorting our objectivity if we let them drive our reasoning for too long. Yes, our emotions give us important clues about the meaning of things. They help us interpret our experiences and connect with one another. But it’s rational thought that helps us come back to reality in the moment so we can align ourselves with the facts.

Knowing this distinction between the purpose of emotions and the purpose of rational thought can be very helpful when we experience a loss. I learned about this distinction from a very wise person who advised me to try to see every bad situation as an opportunity as quickly as possible. “Go ahead and experience the emotions, because they will help you remember it next time”, he said. “But as soon as you can, line up with reality, face the facts and make a decision to think both rationally and imaginatively at the same time. What’s the situation, what caused it to happen, what makes sense and then, what else is possible?”

As he told me this, I remembered how I had let the departure of a very talented full stack engineer the year before really bother me for a long time. I hung onto it like a dog on a bone. I really liked this guy, he was truly a genius and I had an incredibly good time working with him. He brought my ideas to life with his code and eye for design. So when he left I let it distract me from my mission for quite a while. Too long really. I was probably even a downer for the other people on the team for longer than I care to admit. What good did that do? I decided that one person can’t be that important that I let them affect the culture, even if they are that good. It would have been incongruent with our values to be anything but supportive of his career choice. Thankfully, I began to trust my rational thoughts more than my emotions regarding our talent and everything began to change. The next time we lost a key person, I wished him well, never missed a step and quickly chose to make it into an opportunity. As a result, we decided to hire many levels above the last job description and it paid off beautifully.

Now rational thinking is my “call a friend” strategy when something goes bust. Instead, I say to myself - what are the facts and how can I mix up some new ones that open new doors?