Friday, September 16, 2011

It is what it is. Is it?

It is what it is.

How many times have we each heard that said with the intent of convincing us to just accept the facts, reality or status quo of a situation?

However, I love an addition to this line made by Pat Summitt, the legendary coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball program. She recently announced that she had been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s but that she would continue coaching, with help from her assistant coaches. While people were wondering how she and her team would react, I listened to an interview with one of her friends. She asserted that the team would use the circumstance as a way to come together because of what Coach Summitt often said:

It is what it is, but it becomes what you make of it.

Isn’t that a great phrase? I have been struck by this phrase during the past few weeks – I can’t get it out of my mind. It takes a passive, almost helpless state – there is nothing I can do, because it is what it is – and turns it in to a choice. It becomes what you make of it.

The main reason I continue to advocate for what I call a Plan B Philosophy is to remind us all that adaptability is key to success in most situations. It doesn’t mean to hide from the brutal reality or the facts of the situation. They are, in fact, what they are. As I say, sometimes the laws of physics apply. We can wish gravity wasn’t there, but that won’t make it go away. However at the point we understand the facts, we have choice: How do we react to the facts of the situation? What action do we take?

Do I, as an individual, accept a less than satisfactory outcome because I really don’t have control over the situation? After all, it is what it is. Many times we take a look at a difficult situation and are overcome by the circumstances. We can’t possibly change things. We get scared. We retreat. We give in. We procrastinate. We quit.

But what if we each took an outlook that focused on the second half of the statement? What if each of us focused on the reality that we can change the outcome by our actions, influence and attitude? That we are not passive observers to our own future. That we can define our future and can realize that future despite the circumstances.

Sure it’s not easy. I know this first-hand and have been living it for about three months not related to a business or professional situation. Lisa and I decided to do a large remodeling project and addition to our house. It is the definition of “big bang” – remodeled bedroom, kitchen, plus an addition of a garage, family room, new bedroom and bathroom. We have touched almost every part of our house in some way. We live in a house built in 1919, so there are always surprises along the way. One of the biggest was our roof.

We knew there problems with the roof as the overhangs were sagging significantly. That has been the case since we bought the house 12 years ago. What we didn’t know is that the overhangs weren’t really attached to the roof in a structurally sound way. As the framer was working on the first one, it took much longer and was way more difficult than anticipated. After that, there was concern among all of our construction folks about attacking the rest of the overhangs because the existing bracing might break loose if they touched it. There was also a concern that they could even make it better. It is what it is.

I was discouraged. And in the end, I was not willing to accept that as the future for our house. In retrospect, I was maybe even a bit belligerent. After all, it was my house. If the roof wasn’t fixed at the point it was all torn up and it fell down two weeks, two months or two years later, I would still have to deal with it. I pushed for different solutions and a better outcome. We talked and debated. Each of us consulted with others. We brainstormed solutions that we all knew we couldn’t be sure of until we actually started. It could have ended badly – that was a possible outcome. As it turns out, our framer came up with a solution that provided the structural integrity for our future. To the layperson, he performed his own version of magic on our roof. The roofers added to his work and finished the roof. Is it perfect – no. Is it the outcome we needed for our house – yes.

It is uncomfortable to push for something beyond average. Very few people really like conflict. Those around me at work and home know that this has been a difficult project in many ways. There have been lots of times I wanted to just give up or give in to what I saw as something less than the best result, in the name of “just getting it done.” On the times that I have given in, I have been unhappy with the result, because I know what it could have been if I had been resolute to the vision of what it could have been. When I have been insistent, I believe we have gotten the result that we wanted when we embarked on this project.

In many ways a remodeling project is the perfect embodiment of the Plan B Philosophy. (In fact, my very first blog post was about my first remodeling project in this house). There aren’t square corners, level floors or perfect circumstances and you have a vision of what you want but not the exact road map to get where you want. There are surprises that no one expected. There are decisions that have to be made on the spot.

A project, a customer, a business, an old house: each one “is what it is.” But it does become what you make of it. And sometimes that means being a bit stubborn – standing up for the vision of what it could be become.

The next time someone says, “It is what is” with the intent of shutting down the conversation, remember Coach Summitt’s second half, that it “becomes what you make of it.” It is in your control. Facts are facts. Reality is often reality. But what you choose to do about it is under your control. Make of it the future that you want.