Having someone encourage me to “make lemonade out of lemons” is the kind of thing that makes me want to squirt some metaphorical lemon juice in their eye.
Maybe it’s that the phrase itself is kind of vague and patronizing — not the advice you want to give your friend who’s just had a supremely stressful day at her big-girl office job.
Which is why I was delighted to find a more sophisticated — and specific — framing of this strategy in a Harvard Business Review article by Srikumar Rao.
Rao, who is a former business school professor, says dealing successfully with setbacks comes down to two questions. I’ve paraphrased the questions below:
1. Is there any possible way in which this setback could actually turn out to be good?
2. What can I do to make that good thing happen?
Rao suggests that, if you analyse every tough experience this way, you’ll become more resilient — resilience being what he calls the “new must-have executive skill.” It’s the ability, according to Psychology Today, to get “knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever.”
The questions Rao shares are based on an ancient Sufi parable, in which a father and son alternately experience bad luck and good fortune. Each time they experience one or the other, the man tells his gossipy neighbours, “Good thing, bad thing, who knows?”
In other words, embrace the uncertainty, and remember those times when a seemingly horrible turn of events turned out to be a positive one. I thought back to my college experience — after getting rejected from almost every school I applied to, I wound up at my last choice. I had the time of my life, and can’t imagine having gone elsewhere.
I thought, too, of Spanx founder Sara Blakely, who told Business Insider that she applauds failure — her own and Spanx employees’. The idea is to learn from failure and approach it from a constructive perspective.
It’s not exactly the same strategy that Rao’s describing, but it goes back to that core theme of seeing a bad thing as a good thing, and knowing that while you can’t rewrite the past, you have a lot of influence over the future.
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