Leadership Spotlight: Don’t Let Yesterday’s Frustrations Hijack Today’s Successes

This guest post is written by Tim Rahschulte, Ph.D, Chief Executive Officer, Professional Development Academy, in partnership with the NACo High Performance Leadership Academy as part of MACo’s Spotlight on Leadership series.

Along any journey, we’ll make mistakes. We’ll make improper decisions and have illogical actions. It’s been said that these missteps in our past — our past actions — cannot be erased. That’s true and simply means that the consequences of your actions never leave you. They’re part of your path, journey and story. Past actions, however, aren’t there to haunt us, taunt us or keep us from achieving our goals, dreams, aspirations and visions of future states — although they may seem to do so from time to time. It’s best to keep in mind that our past actions have occurred; therefore, they’re in the past — not the present and not the future.

You’re probably familiar with some of the more remarkable stories of individuals who have turned life’s missteps and setbacks into amazing success stories. Here are a few classic examples that you may have already heard: Steve Jobs was fired from his position at Apple; Bill Gates’ first company went under; Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team; Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections and experienced a nervous breakdown; J. K. Rowling at one point was unemployed and described herself as a big failure; Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first television position and even Henry Ford failed multiple times, which resulted in personal bankruptcies. There are many other stories, and you likely have your own, where actions and circumstances caused negative outcomes and missteps along a journey that likely was well-intentioned, properly prepared and void of any challenge or setback.

You’re likely thinking that it’s easy to be inspired by others who have turned failure into success, but it can be much more difficult to move past our own failures and frustrations. We’re inspired by such stories because we get to see the end. We know and remember the successes of others because of their success. We don’t always remember the struggles they faced, the fear they had to overcome and their actions that followed a downfall. However, when it comes to our own frustrations, setbacks and missteps, we can easily allow them to hijack future success because we lack the ability to see a positive outcome that awaits us. To prevent the past from hijacking the present, we need to realize where it is — it’s behind us! If you need to start over, start now. Experiences from the past can fuel us to succeed today … but only if we can cope with any past setback rather than having it devalue our self-efficacy, damage our self-determination, prevent us from reaching our planned achievements and consume us with fear to the point of inaction. Cope with setbacks from the past, deal with them and learn from them. Then let them go and focus on action. Focus on your immediate next step along your journey. Remember, success isn’t limited to a select few. It’s available to anyone willing to have a vision, prepare properly, follow through with actions, and overcome hurdles, missteps and setbacks.

Our experiences are all in the past. They shape who we are, but they don’t determine who we will be. They illustrate what we’ve accomplished but not our vision of what’s next. They harbor the consequences of our missteps but not our potential. Only from present activities do we determine who we are and who we will become, what we are willing to do and what we will achieve. So even if you’ve had some bad experiences or missed achieving a goal (or many goals), it’s OK. Get better today. And then get even better tomorrow. And then repeat. Err on the side of action or risk having yesterday’s frustrations hijack your potential for success today.

Interested in learning more about leadership tools and skills?

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With a robust curriculum developed by the Professional Development Academy in partnership with Fortune 1000 executives, public sector leaders, world-renowned academics and thought leaders, including General Colin Powell and Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, HPLA was designed specifically for the unique challenges and opportunities of serving in county government.

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