Learning the Wrong Lesson

wrong lesson
Injustices happen.

Bad things happen to good people.

And when they do, we need to be sure we are taking away the right lesson. When something bad happens we naturally prefer to process the injustice in a way that makes us coming out as the victim; we are right, they are wrong. Sympathy is in our corner.

But, if we are honest with ourselves, rarely do we find ourselves in a situation where we played no part. And if we have the courage to step back, we can see where we contributed to the perceived injustice.

In What You're Really Meant to Do, Robert Kaplan tells the story of a television producer that got passed over for a promotion. Initially, he took the easy way out. He chose to frame it as a "political" issue. "The people who get the jobs are the ones with the connections. All this talk about being a team player and helping others sounds nice, but it's not how people get ahead." This is the wrong lesson. Worse still is the fact that this thinking taints all of your thinking and behavior from this point forward and contributes to further "injustices" down the road. You undermine your "ability to exhibit character and leadership traits" that could help your career, says Kaplan. With this narrative in your head, you fail to do the things you should and when things don't go well for you, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy that further degrades your attitude and performance. At that point, everything you do is operating from a place of weakness and not your strengths.

He adds, the producer "found it easier to stew about the unfairness of it rather than take the more uncomfortable path of figuring out how he needed to improve." We all typically do this but we can't leave it there. Kaplan wisely counsels:
I urge people who have suffered a trauma that they experience as an injustice to take time out to process it. You need to reflect on what just happened, seek advice from others who witnessed it, and figure out whether you played a role in what happened…. Learning the wrong lesson, or failing to learn at all, may doom you to repeat some version of the same experience.
When you have been wronged, slow down long enough to learn the right lesson.

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