A Lesson in Attitude from Austin

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Yesterday I was the opening keynoter for a conference in Austin, TX. The audience comprised 300 financial aid professionals—the people who make it possible for other people to go to college. Because of a number of factors, their status is completely up in the air; they literally don’t know if their organization will exist one year from now. So what was the mood like at the conference? Upbeat, enthusiastic, and fun! We had an absolute blast together, and it was primarily because these people refused to let uncertainty get them down.

Now let’s talk about you.

I’m not Kreskin, but I’d be willing to bet that either you or your industry (and probably both) are facing some uncertainty. Perhaps your situation isn’t as dire as my friends’ in Austin, but I’m guessing you’re feeling at least some degree of discomfort. So the question is: what are you going to do about it? Because—and this is the important thing, the thing that’s all too easy to forget—you have a choice. You can whine and complain and mope, or you can engage and plan and aspire. To put it bluntly, you can have a crappy attitude or you can have a great attitude.

My Austin audience has a great attitude. They’re not naive, by any means. They know the facts. They know the situation. But they also know the situation isn’t personal. It’s simply the way it is. So they’re looking at the situation objectively, weighing their options, assessing their strengths, and enthusiastically planning their place in whatever comes next.

The old adage says, “It’s better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” I agree, although I’d like to add a personal note of realism here. Cursing the darkness can be fun. There are few things more enjoyable than getting together with a group of like-minded, dour people, having a few beers, and vehemently cursing the darkness. So go ahead and curse the damn darkness. Get it out of your system. And then go home, sober up, and light a candle. Because cursing the darkness, while fun, isn’t going to move you forward. Lighting a candle will.

Think the road to the top was easy for the Beatles? Think again. There were plenty of times when their status as a band was up in the air, and they literally didn’t know if they would exist in a month, much less a year. They probably cursed the darkness more than a few times. The difference between them and a thousand other bands, though, was that after cursing the darkness, they lit a candle. And then another candle. And another one after that. The other bands cursed the darkness and then broke up.

You’re facing uncertain times. It’s not pleasant. It’s not what you signed up for, and it’s way out of your comfort zone. Fine. I get it. Let’s have a beer together and whine. And then let’s get to work.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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