Years ago, I had the opportunity to do my first presentation for a conference outside of the country. I was asked by a group in New York to lead a session at a conference. Being that I had never really presented much before, they asked me if I could give the session via video conference, and I was pumped about the opportunity.
A little obstacle in my way was that I was taking a vacation with my brother and friend in Greece for the summer, so I had to rearrange some travel to come back, but I was so excited about the opportunity that it didn’t matter.
I had to go to my school district’s central office at the time because Skype wasn’t going to be sufficient for this session. At the time, video conferencing suites were a big thing, but they were not easy to use. I arrived a few hours early to go over what I needed to do to set up, and I was getting excited.
The time had arrived, and the session was about to begin! The screen turned on, and I saw this impressive space with tons of seats. I was jacked! I noticed two people already there and was waiting for the chairs to fill in.
Then the session was about to begin, but still, only two seats were taken. Two seats. That’s it. In the back.
I am talking inside my head now and thinking, “You can do this, George! People will eventually show up!”
In fact, about five minutes into the presentation, one of the people left the session, so now it was just me and some guy listening to me. That’s it! Honestly, I think he wanted to go but felt so bad because he knew if he left, the session was over.
So in my head, here is what I said. “This guy is going to get the best presentation possible!” When I could have easily thrown in the towel and decided it wasn’t worth it, I took the opportunity in front of me and gave it my all.
Fast-forward years later, and I am so blessed to be able to speak to groups across the world, but I always look back at that moment where I could have given up given my best, and I chose the latter. It is shaped a lot of how I think today.
But I will tell you I didn’t always think like this. When situations weren’t what I expected, it was always on someone else, not me. When I look back at many of those instances, I can tell you that there were sometimes things were crappy created by someone else, but my attitude mirrored that, or sometimes was even worse.
I remember that I was unhappy in my career, and I gave myself one more year to stay in education. I got a new job with the best boss I have had to date (thank you, Kelly Wilkins), and although her leadership has inspired me, I know that at the time, I decided to give myself a blank slate and do the best job possible. That year changed me because I changed me.
Here’s is something I have taken away from a lot of lessons over the years. Sometimes the situation I was in was less than ideal, and that is a reality for everyone. But sometimes, I was the problem. Yet, I am always the solution. I still have control over what I can do in a day and what I will try. There will be obstacles, and they will suck, but I have to keep going forward. Some days that notion is easier than other days, but I have realized I can always control my effort. Things will sometimes work out, sometimes they won’t, but I want to be able to look back and be proud of my effort. That is the goal.
When I am struggling, I think of three things. What is the obstacle? How do I shift my thinking to make it better? And, how do I give myself a blank slate to move forward, even if the situation does not provide that for me?
Focusing on those three things has helped me tremendously, and I hope that it can help someone else as well.