What You Focus on Grows (So Choose Wisely)

So, here are some of the themes I’ve been hearing lately:

  • I’ve gained so much weight during COVID and I am so mad at myself
  • I have completely lost momentum with my routines
  • I have no motivation and my productivity has tanked
  • I really need a vacation but I don’t feel I can take the time

I get it. I’ve struggled with feeling like my normally positive, glass-half-full, greatness-is-everywhere self. 

Here’s the thing though. Beating ourselves up and wishing for something else isn’t getting us back on track. It’s not making us feel any better in the middle of this pandemic. (She says after just getting back from a much needed vacation.)

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

We’ve probably all had someone in our life, at some time, tell us that it’s okay to not be okay. (If you haven’t, it’s time you got less perfectionistic friends.)

It’s true though. It’s okay to struggle, try things and fail, not always be on our “A” game (unless you’re a pro ball player and then, well, it’s probably somewhere in your contract you have to be “A” game material ;-] ).  Particularly during times of strain like now, we may find ourselves struggling with things we had on track six months ago – healthy habits, socializing, separating work and home – because nothing is normal!

To struggle is human (I think someone said it and if they didn’t, there, I said it).

Not feeling better yet? It might be that you have a failure resistant mindset. Or those around you and where you work, you’re not allowed to fail. Or both.

What You Focus On Grows

You will always find the evidence for whatever you believe. Think you’re not eating right lately? I bet you recall every unhealthy thing you ate today. But have you only eaten unhealthy things today? Doubt it. If you focus on what you did well, you will see evidence of that too. What you focus on is what you see.

Even if you see way more evidence something is not working (“I really haven’t eaten a vegetable since last Thursday”) then look for the exception to the rule. This is called positive deviance. And when you see where the positive exception is, you can consider why that exception existed (maybe you had prepped healthy veggies in the fridge, you weren’t starving by the time you prepared your meal, you went for a walk and didn’t want to “ruin” your healthy start for the day, you were with your BFF versus your teenage sons who could eat ten Big Macs and the only problem they’d have is some water retention). 

So what has this got to do with work? Well, glad you asked.

A lot of my (totally brilliant, amazing, talented) coaching clients find when they’re stuck, it’s when they’re focused on “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”. We call this the “s” word. It’s an external, super judgemental and completely unhelpful frame of reference that’s often myered in comparitis, partial information and unexplored biases.

Now, you may be thinking, but Sarah, I really should ________ (fill in the blank) and I have no “excuse.” Okay, I get it. Maybe there could be more veggies and taking on task and less Netflix. I’m just saying fixating unrelentingly on what’s not working is only going to keep you stuck, and in the process, rob you of your opportunity to notice and live into your greatness.

Flip Failure to Refocus

If you’ve read my book Flip Side of Failing: How to Recognize and Leverage Greatness in Work and Life, you will know that to get out of this unhealthy cycle of problem fixation, we often need to challenge our very notion of failure.

We feel like failures often. More often than we realize. It’s in a very socially acceptable form called labels. You may disagree with me that they’re acceptable because we don’t use all of the negative, hurtful, and derogatory words quite as frequently and publicly as we might have in the past. However, I challenge you to go a day without labelling yourself or someone else in your head. Go ahead, try. If you do it, you’re a better person than me.

What are some of the labels I see? Low performer. Divorcee. Bad Mom/Dad. Unemployed. Clown. Bossyboots. Uneducated. Manic Depressive. Millennial. 

Labels aren’t the whole story. Let’s deconstruct a few labels:the flipside of failing by sarah mcvanel book cover

  • Underperformer – you had a poor performance review
  • Divorcee – you or your partner chose not to be in the relationship any longer
  • Bad Mom/Dad – you haven’t spend as much time/patience/attention with the kids as you’d like
  • Unemployed – you are currently looking for work
  • Clown – you like to have fun (and not everyone gets you)
  • Bossyboots – you have strong opinions you vocalize
  • Uneducated – you have less formal schooling than peers
  • Manic depressive – you have struggled with a diagnosed mental illness 
  • Millennial – you are in a demographic category (and again, not everyone gets you)

You see what I mean? You’re not your labels. Your labels are not you. You’re not a failure. Failures are not you. Missteps, obstacles and frustrations are all a part of the package of life, goodness knows it’s part of the package of a pandemic.

The Great Fail Too

If you’ve read Flip Side of Failing you will know the story that it was supposed to be a book about greatness. The team and I interviewed over 30 amazing Canadians about their greatness. When I went to write that book, well, it was boring. It was uninspired. It was fluffy. In other words, I failed in writing my book. Not once. But twice (if at first you don’t succeed…).

Why? The real story is that the road to greatness is paved with failures, disappointments, rejection and barriers. By talking about greatness, I learned that valuing and even seeking out failure, and then finding a way to use failure to your advantage, gets you farther ahead than playing it safe.

I know this is resonating as my most required keynote (virtual or live) is the Flip Side of Failing keynote (and believe me, I don’t think it’s because I do hip hop dancing during that speech.) It’s also the most requested topic when I’m interviewed for podcasts.

I thought now might be a time for the friendly reminder that there are a whole host of great podcast episodes where I had some pretty cool conversations with even cooler people about how to flip failure – anytime and during this zany pandemic time. Over the next two weeks, I’ll share the eight key lessons that are particularly relevant right now.

To ensure you don’t miss these posts, please ensure you’re subscribed to Your Greatness Magnified.

In the meantime, stay safe and stay well

Here are more resources to help you Focus on Flipping Failure:

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Deb Rakonjac

Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

"Sarah nailed it!  She worked with the planning group to learn about the organization, the audience, the desired key messages and integrated it seamlessly into her keynote. Her energy was contagious! We received rave reviews of this portion of our event and Sarah was able to speak to all members of our organization in a way that motivated them to recognize others everyday. Our executives were extraordinarily pleased and integrated FROGging into their recent board meeting. Purolator is grateful to Sarah for dropping the pebble and we continue to see the ripples from this session across the organization. Working with Tami was phenomenal and the supports were easy to integrate to ensure the session went well. Thanks to you both!!"
Douglas D Swift

President & CEO, Swiftco Inc.

"I have had the Sarah experience in numerous settings: As a keynote, around a table with several other business owners, one on one over coffee, chatting with others at a conference reception, dining with a small group of colleagues. No matter the setting you always get the same Sarah: engaging, attentive, interested, inspiring, motivational, genuine. And always with an infectious smile. Do yourself, your company, your association a favour. Get the Greatness Magnified (Sarah) experience. The payback is priceless."
Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

Some of the Great Organizations We Serve