Is It a Sign or a Test?

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of May 6th)

Every one of us will have experiences that will cause us to question the meaning of an event. Doesn’t matter if you’re an employee, or employer. It will happen. The problem for many is they want the right answer. There is a right answer — but not what you might think.

Some questions simply don’t have a correct answer. Many of these questions revolve around the idea of trying something and not having it work out. Should you have tried? Do you try again? Did something happen you couldn’t control on your end or theirs but you can’t tell which, and call or ask to find out?  An example might be that a colleague didn’t answer your email or voice message, and it happened more than once. Are they ignoring you? Are they not getting the message, or too busy at the moment? Email or call just one more time and you could be seen not as a person demonstrating professional due diligence, but as a pest.

So what is the correct answer?

There isn’t one. This is a judgment call, and the chips must fall where they may. But how you view your decision is what’s important — not the actual task.

Many people get hung up when something they worked long and hard on falls apart. You make plans, do your due diligence, prepare, and then things go awry. A client you’ve been trying to acquire for 5 years finally says, “OK send me an RFP / Request For Proposal.” You spend two weeks working on the perfect proposal. To ensure there are no typos you have it proofread by an English professor only to discover after you sent it you mistakenly put Mr. instead of Ms. throughout. Is it a test or a sign?

Some things happen completely outside of your control. You plan an event. You’ve been wondering if you should hold it at a certain venue for a long time, yet you could never get proper pricing or a workable date. Out of the blue you’re notified that all your criteria have been met. You decide to do it. The day of your event their air conditioning units fail, and it’s hot. To top it off the building is one that doesn’t allow windows to be opened. Is it a test or a sign?

As you can see,  there is no right or wrong answer. It’s all in how you look at it once the dust settles. The only correct question and answer to any of the above is this: Did you do your best — yes or no?

If you did, that’s all you can do. You can’t change the past. Kicking yourself over and over again won’t change it either. If the answer is no, then what you need to do is take measures to ensure you don’t do it again. But whether or not it’s a test or a sign is still arguable. The mistake may have been within your control — but some mistakes happen no matter how hard or diligent you are. There are situations where no amount of preparedness can satisfy all the variables.

Don’t beat yourself up. Move on. It’s called life. You win some, you lose some, but you learn from all.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr