An article made its way into my email inbox not long ago, and I immediately took its practical wisdom to heart. Then a few months later I found myself in a situation that challenged me to go a step further and put that wisdom into practice when it really mattered.
In fact, it also challenged me to put into practice some of the very things I teach as core components of Transfluence — notably my 3H-Core of honesty, humility, and heart.
Thankfully, I snatched victory from the jaws of defeat before making a bad situation even worse.
The article, which came to mind only in reflecting on this could-have-been disaster, was about how we instinctively label the events of life as either good or bad and therefore miss opportunities to see something good in, or make something good out of, the things we automatically label as bad.
“Maybe the extra help the customer needs will pay off because they are satisfied and send a referral,” the author wrote. “Maybe if the line at the coffee shop was longer I would have had more time to talk to the person around me and learn something that changes my perspective for the better. You get the drift.”
We don’t have to label everything that happens as “good,” he concluded, but not seeing negative experiences as bad can change our outlook on our day. And that’s good because our outlook – our attitude – affects our actions.
The test to this wisdom came on a rainy afternoon when I was driving from a meeting at Penn State to visit my sisters in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t just raining; it was an intense storm. I was in a hurry, partly because I didn’t want to drive in the downpour once it got dark, but I knew I would never make it all the way without stopping for gas. So when I got to Johnstown on Route 22, I pulled into a convenience store for a quick pit stop.
The first pump I chose was diesel, so I backed up the rental car and pulled around to a different one. That’s when the front bumper of the car hit one of the barriers that protects the pumps.
Yikes! I thought (or something to that effect). That’s not good.
Frustrated, I filled the tank with gas and started back to the highway. But I quickly realized I had forgotten something — I had neglected to put the handle back in the pump. And, yes, I pulled it right off the hose — and the hose right off the pump.
Never miss a post about leadership, transparency, and trust by signing up for my weekly mailing list, delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.
This is when my logic began to twist in terrible ways. I looked around. Apparently, I was the only person who needed gas or at least the only one to stop for it in a downpour. Then I looked at the hose and the handle laying on the ground. Then I thought about how much further I needed to drive in this deluge. And how eager I was to get to my destination.
You know what, I thought as I considered what to do next. I bet that happens all the time. I’m sure they are used to fixing it. It’s probably no big deal. I’m just going to keep going.
I left the hose and the pump handle on the ground, got back into the rental car, and made my way toward the street that led to highway.
Then my conscience kicked in.
I stopped. I took a deep breath. I went back. And I had a conversation with the clerk in the store.
“These things cost money to fix, you know,” he told me.
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “How much does it cost to fix it?”
He gave it some thought.
“I’d say about $50,” he said.
I handed him a $50 bill from my wallet and asked if we were square. He said we were. And off I went to see my sisters, still aggravated by my misfortunes but feeling better about my response.
Later that night I returned the rental car. There was no one there to check it in, so I dropped it off and left the keys in the car. When Monday morning rolled around, I called the company to make sure they knew I was aware of the accident and to arrange to pay for it. But I never heard back from them about paying for the damage. I was charged only the normal rental fee.
In the grand scheme of things, that Friday wasn’t a bad day. A few bad things happened: I dented the bumper on a rental car. I damaged a gas pump. I had to drive in the rain. I arrived to see my sisters later than I intended. None of that was good. But I’ve had worse days and so have most other people.
Was it a good day? In retrospect, I’d say so.
I had several opportunities to shed my integrity. I didn’t have to tell the clerk at the store about the pump. I didn’t have to tell the rental car company about the damage to the car. I didn’t have to do the right things. If I had done so, I might have avoided the short-term downsides of my circumstances, but I would still be living with regret. Instead, I can share this story so that hopefully others can learn from it.
The lesson: We will all be tempted during the storms of life, and we might even give in momentarily to the voices that justify a wrong decision. When that happens, shut those voices down. Defy them. And start looking for the good in the situation. It might take some time to find it, but you’ll never regret doing the right thing.