We have all gone through the lows, the funks, the losses—some catastrophic and others not so much.

In these situations, when the metaphorical shit hits the fan, the most amazing thing happens. The people involved often have polarizing reactions—you could have sworn one had won the lottery, while the other had a gun pointed to their head.

“It is the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines which way we will go.”

– Jim Rohn

I and so many others with credentials actually worth listening to would argue that this statement is true and accurate. Yet, if so much of our “success” is merely our reaction to these moments, then why do we allow ourselves to act like three year-old children?

It is in these moments that opportunities to separate ourselves from the masses lay. In these moments, two things will occur.

  1. The peak-end rule; a psychological heuristic in which people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e. its most intense point) and how it felt at its end, our memory becoming skewed by the very last moment.

There is a moment in all chaotic or bad situations, a moment for saving grace, and we leave it un-utilized over and over again. The very last moment is where we have one last chance to leave a good impression.

Meet Bill.

Late to work, wrinkled clothes, terrible work ethic, and everything was always someone else’s fault—the true embodiment of a victim. The day came (all to late) where we finally let Bill go. His reaction and the first words out of his mouth were, “Okay, two things: one, go fuck yourself; and two, you need me.”

Bill’s unawareness was truly world-class. However, that’s not the point why I tell Bill’s story. After our meeting where he was let go, we walked Bill through the office to collect his things. Upon reaching his desk, he decided to smack a full soda can across his desk.

Next, in a display DiCaprio himself would be happy with, Bill pointed at me and said in front of 40 people, “Watch yourself.” Turning around, he stormed out of the office and, with a final, dramatic, Spartan-style kick, he booted our front door (which swung back and hit him), and he was off.

I turned back to see how everyone else reacted to the situation, thinking I would need to explain our decision. We didn’t have to. What I saw was an almost uniform smirk on the faces of everyone. I saw the immense effort that everyone was putting in…not to laugh. It clearly showed what the rest of the office thought of Bill.

A thought exercise…

Now, despite Bill’s terrible tenor at our company, what if Bill had said, “I understand,” and had walked to his desk, thanked everyone for the time together, and left professionally. I would argue everyone would think a little better of Bill (obviously). However, we might even go as far to think it just wasn’t a good fit—that maybe it wasn’t Bill’s fault? Maybe he was a good worker after all. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Now, these bad choices and reactions aren’t kept for just us lowly employees. It is a universal fact for all humans that our reactions are almost always the cause of more and more significant problems. But, what happens when it happens to all of us at once?

What about when the whole fan falls off the roof?

When a mass layoff happens, either through an office relocating or a company going bankrupt, an array of reactions from the people affected occurs—from the executives down to the newest employee. We all handle stress differently.

No one will say it is a good thing—the devastation can ruin livelihoods, break families apart, and is genuinely heart-wrenching. However, the reactions can determine the next 6, to 12, to 24 months of these individuals’ lives, more than just the event itself.

In my single experience with something as big and dramatic as a company-wide layoff, the reactions from all of us varied drastically. After receiving the final word that our company had gone under and the terrible and numerous calls out to the team were made, the real show began.

The next morning, when we all went into the office to collect our personal effects, everyone reacted in their own way. Some were hugging, others laughing, a few crying, and some stealing. As we sat looking out of the window, overlooking the carpark, we noticed what people were carrying. The office had grown legs; everything that wasn’t bolted to the ground, went into their cars: rugs, cups, folders, printer paper, posters, cutlery, water fountains, chairs, and desks. Many were going home and coming back with an empty car to do it all over again.

Over the next month, the reactions continued in varying fashions. Some blamed the middle to senior management for the ordeal, people that had no impact on the situation. Others, held personal documents ransom. Friends were cutting off each other, saying they were in on it. While rumors about payouts began to spread, others took to social media to share group chats saying it was fraud.

A horrendous situation in all counts, but while we all struggled to deal with the news, others had a new job in under a week. It was also these people that shook hands, thanking everyone for the good times and laughing about the bad, who just moved on with their lives. I was in awe of these people.

The second thing that happens in these moments, or very soon after, is…A phone call.

In the following weeks after a terrible crisis, especially in the professional sphere, there are always—to impress this upon you, ALWAYS—new opportunities.

You may have heard that the Chinese symbol for crisis has two elements—one meaning danger, and the other opportunity. While this is partly true, the second symbol that many take to mean opportunity can have many different meanings and, it turns out, means something closer to “incipient moment”—a crucial point in time when something begins or changes.

People are great; they want to help, truly. After the company went under, I was blessed to have a few job opportunities come my way from people within the company and one where I would need to build a team again. I can say when figuring out who to bring on board for this new project, the dire last days, the days of stress, the ‘bad’ times, came to mind a LOT quicker than the good. The people that handled those situations, especially the final one, poorly, didn’t get a call from me.

Here’s the kicker, we never really know when this happens to us. Again, I’m sure this has happened to me, so I am not preaching—more documenting the existence of this reality.

With a high-level of certainty, I can say the people that didn’t get a phone call from me, and others that I know who had their own new opportunities, was because they handled the stress hard situations poorly, or in the final days crumbling becoming lesser of what they can be.

Make sure you’re the one getting the phone call. Don’t miss that last opportunity to leave a positive impression.

So why is bad shit so damn good?

It is an opportunity, sometimes of a lifetime, to separate yourself from those around you.

“Easy reveals nothing, hard reveals everything.”

It is a time where you can stand up, become a leader, help the situation, and be the rock people lean on, the caring soul that takes on the brunt of the burden. While others are too busy blaming and yelling, you can shine through.

It is also an excellent gauge for those who you call for your next opportunity. You meet the worst and the best of people. ‘Bad Shit’ separates the professional from the amateur; the victor from the victim.

Whether it is a devastating lay-off, a bad sales call, someone dinging your car, or a bad breakup, developing the ability to stop and force yourself to assume good intent will allow for a better RE-action on your part. Cultivating this skill, and it is a skill, it can be learned and it will bring you more and better opportunities.

Always remember…

“It is the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines which way we will go.” – Jim Rohn


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