Accent The Positive

Dec. 21, 2004
Respond, don't react, to obstacles and setbacks.

I learned about positive thinking the hard way. It was not in my genes, but I found it in my Jean. Jean was my first love. I met her in English Composition 101. At first sight, she was gorgeous. At second and third sight, she became a goddess. I studied her from four rows away. Her mannerisms. Her expressions. Her speech. I was obsessed with her. She occupied my time and attention. Yes, I was in love. Some months later I struck up enough courage to ask her to go to the Prom. To my complete surprise, she said "yes." The prom became my obsession. It was the biggest social event of the college year. It would cost money. I didn't have much. So I waited on tables. Washed cars. Started a laundry and dry cleaning concession at the fraternity. And I saved my dimes. I arranged to borrow a car. I also arranged a double date so that my best friend and I could share the cost of gasoline. Prom night arrived. I had managed to scrounge enough money to rent a tux, gas the car, and buy a corsage. Primped, combed and polished, I picked up my friend and his date and then drove to the Theta house to pick up Jean. I parked on the street and, with the corsage clutched in my hot fist, I went to the front door and rang the bell. Mrs. Thomas, the Theta house mother, came to the door. "Hi, Mrs. Thomas. I'm Sal Marino. Jean Baker is my prom date. Will you please tell her I'm here?" "Jean Baker? Jean Baker is your prom date?" "Yes, Ma'am. She sure is," I replied proudly. "I'm terribly sorry, young man. There must be some mistake. Jean left just 15 minutes ago with Bob Brewster. They must be at the prom by this time." End of scene. How would you feel in my place? What would you say? What would you do? I suspect some of you would be angry at Jean for standing you up. Others might feel less anger and more self-doubt. A few of you, would react irrationally and decide "It must be my fault." You angry ones might curse, kick the door, turn your anger on Mrs. Thomas, and, perhaps, rush off to find Jean and embarrass her as you have been embarrassed. Or, you might suppress your feelings and act calm and under control as you let anger eat your insides. Those of you who feel ashamed, or inadequate, might clam up. Or even break out in tears. But, the positive thinkers among you would accept the situation as "just one of those things that sometimes happens. An honest mistake." They would view it as an opportunity to make an omelet out of a broken egg. What did I do? Well, I could sense that Mrs. Thomas felt sorry for me. So, I took the corsage, handed it to her and said, "Mrs. Thomas, I appreciate your concern for me. And I thank you. I'd like you to have this corsage as a token of my appreciation. It matches the color of your lovely dress. I wonder, Mrs. Thomas, would you go to the prom with me?" And the marvelously insightful Mrs. Thomas answered, "Yes, I would be pleased and proud to be your prom date." So, we went to the prom together. And we created a mild sensation. Mrs. Thomas was not only a positive thinker, but a superb dancer, as well. Some of you may find this story difficult to believe. I swear on my Jean Baker voodoo doll, the story is true. I would be less than candid, however, if I left the impression that I felt no anguish. I definitely felt sorry for myself. But, at the time, I saw only two choices: I could choose to respond rationally or I could choose to react emotionally. Response is a positive reaction. Reaction is a negative one. Responding takes thought. Reaction is thoughtless. Response is reasoned and rational. Reaction is unreasoned and irrational. No matter how much I ranted or raved, Jean had gone to the prom with Bob. And there was nothing I could do to change that. When faced with a situation I can't change, I've learned to accept it. I was born a man. I'm going to remain a man. So I accept it. I was born to be five-foot-eight-inches tall. I'd prefer to be six-foot-six, but I'm not going to be. So I accept it. I am bald. I'm going to stay bald. So I accept it. Positive thinking has taught me that I can choose to accept who I am and what I am and make the most out of what I have. Or I can choose to become a miserable, malevolent misfit, ruin my life -- and everybody else's who comes into contact with me. Positive thinking teaches that obstacles are opportunities. They form dams behind which idea pressure piles up and is stored. This pressure has the power and potential to allow you to grow in depth of know-how and in experience. The successful chief executive learns to control and release that pressure to nurture people, customers, and shareholders. All chief executives may be born equal. But, the smart ones don't stay that way. They assess their strengths and weaknesses honestly. They bolster their weaknesses and exploit their strengths. Then they create unique differences they can capitalize on in a positive way.

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