Perseverance, Perspective and Forgiveness

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These last few weeks have been among the most fraught in recent memory. Between the ongoing pandemic and the election, well, it’s been quite a Fall. Following are three of my top takeaways from the election.

Perseverance

Joe Biden first ran for President in 1987. Let that sink in for a minute. That’s 33 years ago. That’s before the Internet, before cell phones and in the early days of the PC. A couple of number one songs from that year include Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and U2’s “With or Without You.” Tom Clancy’s “Patriot Games” was among the best-selling fiction that year. That’s a long time ago. Biden ran again in the 2008 election where he lost the nomination to Barack Obama before becoming the vice-president. Now, finally, all these years later, he’s the President-elect, poised to finally get the job he has sought for much of his adult life. Regardless of your feelings about his politics, give him credit for this: he showed admirable perseverance. And, that, to me, is one of the great takeaways from this year’s election. If we are very fortunate, life can be long and afford us more than one chance to attain our goals. It’s perfectly fair and appropriate to both feel and express disappointment when you don’t get a job or promotion you were seeking. But, after a period of reflection, the best thing you can do is think about how Biden moved forward and eventually achieved his dream and try to apply that lesson to your own situation.

Perspective

Stacey Abrams lost the governor’s race in Georgia in 2018 by a slim margin. A huge issue was voter turnout. Many on the left felt that turnout had been suppressed by tactics of those on the right. Conversely, those on the right felt that the left was trying to include in the electorate people who were not eligible to vote. Regardless, both sides would agree that it was a highly partisan and bitter fight. Many people who suffered a loss the way Stacey Abrams did would have reacted by either removing themselves from public life or venting endlessly about how they’d been treated unfairly. Ms. Abrams chose a different route. She founded Fair Fight Action to address voter suppression in Georgia and twenty other states. Her organization is credited with registering 800,000 new voters in Georgia alone. As of now, it appears as though her efforts were quite successful with Biden leading in the presidential race in GA and both Senate races headed for runoffs.

When presented with the choice of whether to wallow in self-pity or turn her loss into something positive, Stacey Abrams chose the latter. You can love or hate her politics, but her choice of how to deal with her 2018 loss is admirable and an incredible example to those who don’t attain a goal. We are all faced with setbacks in our careers. How we choose to handle them is what’s critical.

Forgiveness

While we’re focusing on the Democratic side of the ledger, there’s (at least) one more great lesson to be taken from the 2020 election. During one of the Democratic primary debates, Kamala Harris had what most observers felt was her highlight, her one shining moment, when she talked about how she was affected negatively as a little girl by busing and she accused Biden of being a part of the problem. Biden later apologized publicly for the role he’d played. Then, several months later, after Biden had secured the nomination, a cameraman famously captured a shot of Biden’s notes and under Harris’ name it read, “don’t hold grudges.”

Forgiving people who have wronged you or put you in a difficult spot is really tough. It’s easier to hold a grudge or to seek some type of revenge. But, more often than not, that supposed easy route doesn’t work. I’ve not done a close analysis, but I know generally that at least one reason for Biden’s victory is that he captured a huge portion of Black women voters. Of course, that might have happened had he chosen another Black woman as his running mate. But, of perhaps equal importance is the way it made Biden feel and, therefore, act during the remainder of the campaign. Negativity and anger take a lot more energy than forgiveness and equanimity.

What ties together each of the three—Perseverance, Perspective and Forgiveness—is that in each case, the individual faced adversity and, through his or her own actions, turned the situation around for the better. I tell all of my clients that we can only control our own actions and reactions, not those of others. These examples all hold great lessons for the workplace in terms of controlling what you can and not allowing the rest to overtake you.

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