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The lessons from... A train-wreck!

Posted 11/30/2019

I am normally Mr Positive. In fact, I have been labelled by teenagers, at schools I have spoken at, as ‘The Positive Man.’ I like being referred to as positive. I mean it runs circles around the alternative, doesn’t it? Who wants to be known as a miserable, negative person? So, even though I have a positive mindset, and I can look at things with a creative and optimistic perspective, there are times when things just go all wrong. There are times, in all of our lives, when we experience the train-wreck. Well, I experienced a professional train-wreck this week and whilst, at the time, it was one of the most unpleasant and uncomfortable experiences of my speaking career, there are lessons that have come out of it that will help me move forward to become better at what I do. Whenever you experience a train-wreck, look at the rubble, learn the lessons and keep going.

I have been a professional speaker for more than twenty years. In that whole time, I have never experienced a more challenging situation than the one I had to face this week. I’m writing this blog for two main reasons; firstly, to share the story and lessons for you, and, secondly, to negotiate the pain for me. Writing is a great way to learn, heal and move on! On this particular personal growth day, I was speaking to a group who worked for a not-for-profit that dealt with helping and caring for homeless people. This was the third session of three I had done, with three different groups at three different sites. I was warned that they may be a tough crowd, but I was not prepared for what I got. The first session I did was a couple of weeks ago, and whilst the audience was quite unresponsive, they were not that tough. The second session I did, earlier this week, was great. The group were positive and receptive, and it was one of the best sessions I had ever done.

So, I walked into the third session feeling a little cocky and maybe over-confident. I had totally forgotten that I had been warned that they were a tough crowd. Now, I encourage skepticism, because I know some of the stuff I discuss is outside the normal mainstream approach, and I want to challenge people’s thinking a little. All I ask is that they have an open mind. Well, in the audience was a lady who I allowed to send my train spiralling off the rails and into a crumpled wreck on the side of the track. She was not skeptical, she was aggressive. She was not open-minded, she was very closed and strong-minded. She didn’t ask questions, she questioned everything I said. She seemed to take delight in making me feel uncomfortable and look bad. I knew it was going to be a tough day at the office as soon as she put her hand for the first time, of about ten times. About 10 minutes into this 60-minute talk, she said, ‘can I ask a question, since you are doing all the talking?’ That was an interesting question, especially since I was the speaker for the session! I nervously asked, ‘sure, what’s your question?’ In about 30 seconds I had wished I never asked.

Salvaging the wreck

From that first question, about every five to ten minutes this same lady would put up her hand and ask; ‘can I ask a question, since you are doing all the talking?’ Then the question that would follow, would be asked, not with a desire for an answer that clarifies anything, but for more chance to point out flaws in my comments, make me look bad, make herself look good or just because she was not a happy person. As the session went on, with every cynical comment she made and question she asked, my confidence was taking a beating and the atmosphere in the room was getting more and more heavy. I was watching some people squirming in their seats, feeling uncomfortable about how she was speaking. I noticed other people taking her comments seriously and then look at me as if I had no idea what I was talking about. Some people even got up and walked out during the session.

I have honestly never experienced anything like it in my life. When the session was over, there were lots of uncomfortable people, including myself, many who left very quickly. A couple of people came up to me, thanked me and said that they enjoyed my talk. I thanked them and tried to keep up appearances, but I was a crumpled train-wreck on the inside. I packed up quickly and left. It was a truly horrible experience, but, as much as it was a massive train-wreck, I knew there were things I was going to get from this session to help me learn, grow and become better at what I do.

I have to admit, I did suck-my-thumb for a while, and have a little pity party. Not for long though, I quickly lifted myself out of the pits and thought about all the great things I am doing and the lives I am positively impacting, and I thought, ‘I’m not going to let one person ruin that for me.’ Then, I did some critical analysis of myself and my performance to see if there was anything I could take from what she said, and I could. I realised there were some things that I could say differently and with more clarity to remove the risk of contradiction or confusion, so, I thank her for that. I was also reminded of the power that one person can have on the atmosphere in a room and on how other people feel. It reinforced to me why being positive, encouraging and supportive is something I will do for the rest of my long and happy life. Again, I thank her for that.

So, my train-wreck was horrible at the time, as they often are. The lessons that came from it, however, will help me refine my approach where needed, reinforce the things I am doing well, and, encourage me to do them better. I learned from my train-wreck. What about you? What is the disaster in your life at the moment? If there is no mess at the moment, enjoy, but just know it is coming, for that you can be sure. That’s not being negative, in fact, it’s been positive. What I’m saying is, get excited about challenges and train-wrecks in your life, because they will help you become better. Don’t waste the train-wreck. Learn from it and use it to grow as a person and become better at what you do. I promise you, that with reflection, you will find a positive, a lesson or an opportunity in every situation, no matter how horrible it may seem at the time.

As I sit here and get towards the end of this blog, I am feeling better. The negative comments, the looks of disdain and the people walking out on me, in that session, have lost their negative emotional charge. I now actually feel grateful for the experience. I feel like I needed that interaction to sharpen me and get me back into the zone I need to be in to make the impact on the world I am on this planet to make. If you ever get to the place where you feel your train sliding off the tracks and heading for a mangled wreck, then just know, on the other side of the train-wreck there will be lessons, wisdom and opportunity for success and abundance to grow from.