View from the Dragonfly’s Back

MomsGetReal Soulfeeder Chris Wilcox

I’m a movie nut. It began when I watched Jason and the Argonauts at a tender age, and continues to this day.   And when I find pieces of movies that I think are particularly fascinating, inspiring or otherwise great ideas, I incorporate them into my life. (We can all breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t take driving tips or ninja lessons in this fashion.)

One of my favorite things is from The Story of Us. If you haven’t seen it, it’s probably okay. You’re not missing cinematic genius, but you may have a deeper appreciation for the appropriate use of a helmet in the office afterwards.  You will also notice within it a particular stroke of inspiration called “High Low.”

High Low is a ritual that the family in the movie adheres to. Simply put, what’s your high, what’s your low for the day.

So here’s my High Low:

High: Yesterday, I managed to complete three kind of major projects.

Low: On one of them, I sent the wrong draft out to 250 people as “final”.  And my boss was the one to catch the error and send it back to me.

In the grand scheme of things, it was not a big deal.  Yesterday was a series of plates on sticks that each had soccer balls balanced on top.  I’ve been managing multiple projects daily, and have been working ten to twelve hours a day as a matter of course.  One little glitch caught at 3:20 PM — a draft that didn’t contain a six word prepositional phrase.

That was all.

And my brain turned on me. (I have a witness).

I quickly raised my hand, admitted the mistake, explained that it was only to a small group of people and not to the entire world, and did I then take a deep breath and say “Chris, dear, you’re fine. It happens. Slow down.”? No. I did not.

I proceeded to second guess myself for the next several hours.

high low The dialogue in my head turned from practical, task-driven, get-er-done messages to “Way to go, genius. What else have you screwed up today? Oh, wait. Let’s not just look at today – let’s review your entire life. Remember when you were twelve and you said ‘it was easy as pie’ to the group of cute boys and they laughed and you felt so stupid and embarrassed? Let’s settle there for a while and see if you’re 42 year old self can process that amid the 27 things you need to finish today.”

Hello, self-doubt. I’ve not missed you. Not one bit.

One of my best friends called me about an hour into this to check in. I answered the phone like King George approaching the microphone prior to his extensive elocution lessons to manage his stutter.  My voice was small and timid, and I was full of fear.

After we ended the call because my brain was obviously in a round room looking for the corner to hide in, I got a text from her.

“S.T.O.P.”

I did. But it took a night’s sleep and some “WTF happened?” reflecting to let it go.

In the grand scheme of things, the worst thing that can happen in my job is for the wrong message to go out. Google “Pending Larry Quote” and you’ll see where Google themselves did this.  We all have a “Pending Larry Quote” scenario – whether it’s an incomplete draft, an underprojected budget, showing up for an appointment on the wrong day or tripping in front of a billion people like Jennifer Lawrence did on The Academy Awards.

It’s not that the mistake happens, it’s how we recover. In Google’s case, they retracted the draft release (but it will live on forever), and in Jennifer Lawrence’s case, she said something like, “You’re just standing because I tripped” to the standing ovation that she received. Did she go back stage and say “I can’t believe that just happened.” Probably. Do we expect her to beat herself up for it?  Of course not. She’s human. Trips happen.  She handled it brilliantly.

So here’s my new list of questions for my “Pending Larry Quote” moments:

  1. Is this path of thinking helping you to be more productive right now?
  2. What will you do next time instead to put mistakes in perspective? Because you’re going to make them.
  3. What’s the high, what’s the low, what can you learn from it? Now let it go.

That’s it.