Choose how you react

“Choose to have the right attitude, and you choose success,” Scott Alexander wrote the other day. It’s an oft-repeated thought: You can’t control what happens sometimes, but you always can control how you react.

Not that it’s easy — what happens can be infuriating or heartbreaking or unintentionally funny, and your first impulse may be to lash out or burst into tears or laugh out loud in, say, a funeral parlor — but you can (and often should) control that impulse.

There was the day, a week before my second anniversary in the dream job, when we were all called to a big powwow near company headquarters. There, the Big Boss emotionally explained why he had decided to sell the company, and not to someone who could nourish and preserve the firm, but to his most bitter competitor, the one he always warned would dismantle and destroy any company it happened to acquire.

I sat in the room listening, and every fiber of my being wanted to jump up, run as fast as I could, and never look back. Instead I held onto my dream job, vowing to do what I could to protect our little corner of the enterprise from the inevitable corporate creep and preserve our century-old product as best I could.

For more than a decade our stalwart crew managed to keep the historic mission alive. I would tell my colleagues who were frustrated by the new reality, “The best we can do is the best we can do until they tell us we can’t anymore.”

And we did, until the day a dead-eyed company clone told me it was a business decision, not personal, to eliminate my position. The dismantling was underway, but if I’d run 12 years earlier, it would have begun a lot sooner.

Choose to have the right attitude, and you choose success. In my case success might be seen as simply delaying the inevitable, but we maintained the quality of the enterprise for more than a decade, and I have the industry trophies to prove it.

Bad and unpleasant things happen; that’s why we have that word for it — you know, “it” happens. That stuff is out of your control. But always remember: You have complete control over how you react.

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