John Wooden coached a record ten NCAA Men’s basketball championship teams and was called the “Greatest Coach of All Time” by the Sporting News. You would think a man like that would have been obsessed with the scoreboard, but he wasn’t.
He said: “Peace of mind is attained only through self-satisfaction, in knowing you make the effort to do the best of which you are capable.” The best of which you are capable? But what about the final score? And therein lies a critical distinction. There is a difference between taking some actions and getting an outcome, and taking a set of actions such that it is most likely to achieve a desired outcome regardless of what actually happens.
Let’s imagine scenario one: Two good friends are applying to a competitive college. Both of them have excellent applications. One of them is a semi-professional violin player and the other is an all-state track athlete. The college was graduating more than half of the violin section of the orchestra, so the violin player got accepted, while the the track athlete was not needed because the entire track team was freshmen and sophomores. Did the violin player win? Did the athlete lose?
Take scenario two: A headphones company has been planning its launch party for two months. When the big Friday comes around, torrential thunderstorms keep attendees away. The launch team is emotionally crushed. The event is a failure. Or is it?
Everything in the world can be divided into two categories: 1) Things over which you can exert influence, and 2) Things that are out of your control.
When you do anything, there are certain components over which you control. When you are going somewhere, you can choose when you leave, how you transport yourself, and the route that you take. There are also always things that are truly out of your control. You can’t control traffic, train delays, or congestion.
People who are successful live in category one. People who drive themselves crazy live in category two.
“AARRRGGGG!!!! There’s so much traffic! It’s awful, I hate it.” Ummm, so you are going to yell away the other cars on the road?
“The shopping center is really congested, so I’m going to do all of my shopping on Sunday morning. It’s not so bad then.” See the difference? This person focused on what they could control–what time they choose to leave–and ignored the noise.
This pattern repeats itself over and over again, and it drives me crazy to see people get so frustrated by things that are completely outside of their control. You cannot win by focusing on that stuff. World hunger? Not within your control. Volunteering locally with a food bank? Absolutely. Controlling when the train arrives? Not a chance. Leaving ten minutes early to give yourself the best shot to arrive on time? That’s the ticket.
I’m not saying that there’s nothing important that is beyond your control. In fact, many important things are beyond your control. The weather, economy, transportation system, other people–there are many important things that you have little influence over. But if you let yourself get exasperated by these things, it is a one-way ticket to nowhere.
Be very careful, though, to not mistakenly think that something is completely out of your control when you can actually influence a key part of it. Can you control whether or not you will get offered a particular job? Not exactly, but you can get your resume peer-reviewed, practice for your interview, and follow-up with your interviewer. You can’t control the rain, but you can choose if your event will be inside or outside. One is clearly less risky.
In business, like in all things, focus on what you can control.
- Your story. You can control how you tell and pitch your story. You can’t control if people will write about it or not.
- Your vendors and consultants. You can control how you manage them. You can’t control what they do.
- Your customers. You can control how you interact with them. You can’t control them.
- Your product. You can control the quality, the price, and the speed. You can’t dictate the market.
If something is not working, don’t complain about it, don’t stick your head in the sand, either. Find a part that you can control, and do something about it.
Marc Brodeur just wants everyone to be awesome. His first company, Brode, makes a special vitamin that helps promote proper hydration and detox when drinking alcohol. Follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.