Things rarely work out as we plan. This was the case for me recently when something I had been doing took an unexpected turn. A turn which sent me into a minor tailspin. “But your intention was good,” my husband reminded me.
Which shook me awake from my pointless meandering on a hamster wheel of musing. Because he was right. My intention was good. My input was positive. I had, in really simple terms, done my best.
Yet, when it comes to measuring our success and our achievements, too often we focus solely on the outcomes. We wait to see how a piece of work lands before we give ourselves a metaphorical pat on the back. We don’t consider a job well done until it reaches a positive conclusion. We don’t feel a sense of pride until we receive a compliment from someone else. We don’t chalk it up as a win unless it goes well – all of it – the meeting, the conversation, the report.
And then, if things don’t work out as we expected – as things are so frequently wont to do – we write it off. If our work is not so well received, or if it doesn’t achieve everything we set out to, or if we receive some negative feedback, we term it as a failure. Which far too often sadly translates into “I’ve failed.”
It doesn’t feel good.
And herein lies the problem with correlating our success with outcomes alone – there are far too many variables involved beyond our remit. We can’t control how other people will receive our work or what the circumstances are that we’re operating in or what gigantic spanner might be thrown into the mix at the last moment. Yet we hang our sense of achievement frequently and totally on stuff that is outside our sphere of control, and often influence too.
And in doing so, we often totally disregard the input, our intention. The hours of research that informed the end document. The careful consideration behind the meeting agenda. The days of prep behind the event. Do we stop enough to celebrate this stuff?
Because the inputs are the things that we can control. That’s where our power lies. The outcomes are the bits we may be able to influence but very rarely control. And it’s really important to recognise the difference. To celebrate the input. And to accept the outcomes – even when they are far wide of what we might have hoped for.
Actively recognising what we put in allows us to celebrate our achievements along the way – achievements that we so easily overlook. And, it also means we link our success to what we can control, allowing us to focus our efforts in the right place on our input rather than the negative ‘what if’ing’ we often find ourselves caught up in with unwanted outcomes. It’s more effective as it means we can make improvements and changes where we can actually make a difference. And, it’s better for our wellbeing – we’ve all been that person, wide awake at 3am, pondering outcomes that were far from desired.
“Have I done everything I can do?” and “Is my intention good?” are two questions that can be useful in the input stage of anything that we are doing. And when the answers are ‘yes’, then giving ourselves permission to move into acceptance of the outcomes.
Outcomes which may or may not turn out to be what we might have desired or indeed expected. At which point those questions can prove helpful as statements: “I did everything I could do,” and “I had the best of intentions.”
It is something that I need to remind myself – or be reminded of – often. Such as one day during half term when I found myself on the precipice of tumbling into parental guilt triggered by the disappointed reaction of my six-year-old daughter to some craft activities I had set up. Before I succumbed to it, I reminded myself of the complete motherly love and devotion that was the source of my intention and which drove my input. And, to be honest, every activity that relates to my child.
Perhaps, if we really stopped to look at all the incredible efforts we put into the things that we do, we might be utterly surprised at just how much there is to celebrate and recognise every single day. And the extent of our input to make things succeed, all inspired by the best of intentions.