What Do You Do When Your Best-Laid Plans Go Awry?

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You’ve probably heard the idiom, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” or some version of it. I’m not sure what the documentation is regarding the plans of mice; I’m not entirely convinced that they’re really “planners.” But I can certainly vouch for the best-laid plans of men—and women! I’ve had my share of best-laid plans go awry, and I’m guessing you have too. So what do you do when that happens?


When I was in my early 20s, I had a pretty bad motorcycle accident. I crashed my Yamaha into a concrete bridge on a back road in Delaware at 2am. Incredibly, there was no alcohol involved—just a lack of alertness on my part. The entire left side of my bike was destroyed. Of course, since my left leg was between the left side of my bike and the bridge, virtually every bone in my left leg was destroyed as well. Ouch. And, of course, to make it worse, it was 2am on a back road in Delaware. To make a long story short, I had to wait there, lying on the side of the road, for four hours until someone (a family on their way to a fishing trip) found me. It was not my favorite four hour block. It was not my plan.

For the record, I’m fine now. I think my orthopedic surgeon graduated from Hogwart’s.

Look, crappy things are going to happen. In my case, the crappy thing happened because I wasn’t paying attention. But sometimes the crappy things happen even when you are paying attention. That’s because (and some of you leaders are going to have a hard time believing this) you don’t have control over everything! But you always have control over one crucial element—and it’s perhaps the most crucial element.

You always have control over your attitude.

After about an hour of lying there on the side of the road, I started thinking, “Okay, there’s really nothing I can do about this situation now. I’m not a doctor. The best thing I can do is probably lie still until someone finds me. In the meantime, let’s look at the bright side. It’s a beautiful night—perfect temperature! It’s not raining. This bridge that I crashed into crosses over a nice little stream, and the sound of the running water is really very pleasant.”

It was a shift in attitude. Did it heal my leg? Nope. Did it make the pain go away? Not entirely, but at least the pain was no longer my primary focus. But what it did do was change my context for the situation.

What I was basically saying to myself was, “Okay, this is my new situation. Pining for the old situation isn’t going to help. Wishing this hadn’t happened isn’t going to help. This is my new situation. Now let’s deal with it.”

Isn’t it the same in your business? You may not literally be lying on the side of a road with your leg crushed, but I’ll bet you’ve felt that way metaphorically, haven’t you? And it’s probably not the last time that’s going to happen. So when it does happen again, remember these two steps:

  1. Get clear that this is your new situation.
  2. Deal with it.

Crappy things are going to happen. You don’t always have control over that. But you always have control over your attitude.

No matter what happens, you always have control over your attitude. #producingresults Click To Tweet

Question: When has a shift in your attitude made a positive difference in what could be perceived as a negative situation? Please share your story in the Comments section below so that other leaders can learn from your experience.


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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