What To Do When You Can’t Do What You Want To Do

A new client that agreed to sign up with you suddenly cancels. A promised promotion evaporates. The deadline your plumber swore to passes without anything’s having being done. When something you are counting on doesn’t happen, it can be such a drag. But it doesn’t have to be. The trick to dealing with this kind of disappointment is to have a “What if it doesn’t happen?” plan in place almost from the start. Usually, a fallback plan involves a second choice.

Sometimes, that second choice can be very rewarding. If, for example, you are hoping to be in London for Christmas this year, go ahead and book the arrangements — but spend a few minutes thinking of what you can do instead if, for whatever reason, the trip falls through. (A special Christmas at home — celebrated in some new and interesting way — may turn out to be just as good.) The day you hear that your promotion fell through is the day you call up that company you had some conversations with and tell them you are ready for a new challenge. The same holds true if your routine is unexpectedly interrupted.

Two months ago, for example, I tore up my knee and had to have surgery that put me on my back for two weeks and off the Jiu Jitsu mats for six months. For someone with my schedule (and addictive mentality), this could have been very bad. But since I knew from prior injuries that I was likely to undergo this operation (and therefore knew the recovery parameters), I had developed a fallback plan that made the disappointment bearable.

My fallback plan for the two weeks in bed (and on painkillers — which meant I couldn’t do any meaningful work) was to catch up on all the great movies I had never seen or seen only once (including a lot of the recommendations I’ve gotten from ETR readers). My fallback plan for the six months of Jiu Jitsu inactivity was to use the time to rest and restore my shoulders and back –which were seriously ailing. The movie plan went very well. I saw two or three great movies a day — more than 30 movies in all. That brought me pretty much up to where I wanted to be.

I also managed, in the second week, to read a half-dozen business publications that had accumulated on the corner of my desk. Far from feeling blue and abused, I was in a very good mood during that early period of convalescence — and that was entirely due to the fact that I felt like I was finally accomplishing things I had so long wanted to get to. My fallback plan for the six months of inactivity has been more challenging.

I still go into the academy every free moment (and I occasionally help out with a lesson), but, mostly, I am frustrated at not being able to train again — a feeling that intensifies as my leg gets better. But I’m also taking the time, after putting it off for more than three years, to have my shoulders and back worked on, and I am hopeful that when I begin training again in September, I’ll be competing for the first time in years with an injury-free (though age-addled) body. That feels good.

Spend five minutes today asking yourself:

* “What positive development in my career am I counting on right now?”

* “What will I do if it doesn’t happen?”

Then ask yourself the same questions about your personal life. If you don’t have a fallback plan, develop one. When you do, make sure it’s something you can be happy with. If it isn’t, work on it some more. You’ll find that the more time you spend refining it, the more attractive it will become. And in case you suddenly end up with unexpected time on your hands, prepare now by making a list of projects and/or tasks that you have always wanted to do.

Have you been thinking about writing a novel? Researching your family tree? Have you long been frustrated because you can’t speak a foreign language? Can’t dance the salsa? Whatever your dreams, spend some casual time thinking about them, refining them, and imagining how you can make them happen. The more time you spend doing this, the more excited you’ll be about it. As you proceed, compile an active list of your “dream” projects and keep it in a folder somewhere close to where you keep your goals and tasks. That way, if you ever do get some big, disappointing news, you will be able to move from disappointment to excitement in no time flat.