I have a new favorite word. “Despite.”
It’s a word that brings me good feelings. It keeps me going and often brings me some wonderful endings to difficult and sticky situations. It’s a word that I usually say to myself at least once a day and, depending on how the day is going, I can say it up to, say, 217 times — or at least once every five minutes.
That’s because I have learned how to put this word to use in my favor. If used correctly the word “despite” can be life changing, and that’s really underemphasizing its power.
Jeff’s story best describes the power of “despite.”
Jeff’s life had taken a turn for the worst. It had grabbed him by the hair, punched him in the nose and only then did it follow up with a shot to the stomach. Jeff was on the ground, head reeling, wind knocked out of him and it didn’t look like he was getting up anytime soon. He was losing the fight. Every area of his life seemed to be affected: his work, his home life and all the stops in between.
As he described the last five months I couldn’t believe all the horrible things he had endured, most of which had nothing to do with Jeff or his choices.
After listening for a while to how he was feeling, I knew it was time to move to the area I could help him with — what were his plans and what was he going to do now?
But Jeff didn’t want that; he wanted to roll around in the misery a bit longer — and with all he was going through, I didn’t blame him. So I pulled out my favorite word and asked him: “What are you going to do with your life and what decisions are you going to make, ‘despite’ all that has happened to you?”
He laughed at me.
“Despite?” he said.
“Yes,” I began. “Despite, meaning, ‘without being affected by or in spite of.’ So despite how you feel, despite how you are down, despite how this is all unfair — what are you going to do in spite of what has happened?”
Jeff relied: “I never thought of it that way.”
He realized for the first time he could change what was happening.
Yes, you can act and behave despite how you feel and what is happening around you.
It is easy to be happy, to whistle through your life when everything is going well and all is going your way. But when things stop going your way, pull out the big word, despite, and act accordingly. Behave differently despite how you feel.
Aren’t treated well at work? Act kind and do your best, despite what others do. Dealing with sickness on a daily basis? Tired from life’s personal punches? Act despite these feelings. Don’t let your feelings or other’s actions or behaviors dictate what you do — act despite these things.
It gives you control over your own life. It is quite liberating when you choose actions and behaviors over your environment and feelings. Too hard you say? You only get good at this through practice, so you might as well start now.
I had a boss a few years back who hated me. I was surprised she ever even hired me, she disliked me so much. She hated everything about me. The first time we got together she told me my cologne smelled horrible. She made fun of how I dressed and mocked my blond hair. “Men don’t have blond hair, Chris,” she would say. (I never quite knew how to answer that one.)
When I brought up ideas at work she shot them down as “utterly stupid.” We had a meeting one January and she held up my family’s Christmas card and made fun of it — she hated me and I was quickly wanting to return the feelings, even though that’s hardly my usual personality. I was miserable until I started to realize I was giving her control over my emotions and actions. I pulled out my favorite word — despite. She would criticize the strategy I developed for my team, yet I would take the extra time to explain my thinking, despite her comment. She would pick me last for every project; I would work hard despite her choice. It was the “despite” that got me through that difficult time and environment.
I couldn’t change her, but I could change me and my situation.
Dr. CK Bray is a career and organizational development expert who has worked with numerous organizations, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to emerging start-ups. He can be reached at ck@DrCKBray.com or find his blog and more at www.DrCKBray.com.