Have you ever felt sorry for yourself? Or found yourself wallowing so deeply in self-pity that you couldn’t even gather the energy to find a shoulder to cry on?

I have. It’s usually after a setback related to something I expected to turn out great but ended in disappointment. And most of the time, it’s related to my work.

Here’s a recent example.

From flying high to landing with a thud

My team and I had just put the finishing touches on a major project and we were delighted. It had gone better than we imagined. Our results far exceeded anything else we’d ever done and we were flying high!

On the wave of that excitement, we jumped straight into a new project thinking, “hey, we’ve got this project thing down to a science!”

About three quarters of the way through, we were nowhere near our targets and time was running out. Let’s just say that gravity kicked in and we landed back to reality with a thud. Fortunately, it was just a thud and not a crash!

That night, I started to get really down on myself. After all, I was the leader and it was my responsibility.

So, I got into my comfy clothes (the kind you don’t want to be seen wearing in public) and curled up in a blanket on my couch to write an email to my team. It was along the lines of “woe is me – I’m at a loss for what to do, sorry I’ve let you down.”

But then a blessing occurred – my laptop battery died.

By the time I threw off my blanket, leapt off the couch and plugged in the charger, my draft email had disappeared. Only the government will be able to retrieve that one!

Leaders can’t afford to be pathetic

Although I do my best not to judge, blame or label things, a big fat judgmental labeling thought popped into my head.

“Stop being so pathetic!”

Who wants to be pathetic, right? It's totally uncool. Pathetic is for those guys with sad puppy eyes that nobody wanted to date in high school. It’s definitely not something you want from the fearless leader of your team.

Rise up and take action

That's when I challenged myself to rise up and take action. Actions always make me feel better.

My challenge to myself was to make a list of 20 actions that I or my team could take right away to turn the project around.

Frankly, I didn’t think I could think of even 10, but this was supposed to be a big enough challenge to shake me out of my doldrums. So I doubled the number to 20 and stretched my imagination.

Get others involved

In the end, it took just 5 minutes to come up with 19 (still missing that last one, but that's okay). Nothing beats writing with what one of my mentors calls a “hot pen”! Then I posted the list on our team’s shared messaging platform (we use Slack).

Over the next 30 minutes, my team and I messaged back and forth. We decided to implement 16 of them and came up with a new idea in the process.

While we didn't know how things would turn out, it felt satisfying to know we would have done everything we could think of to put ourselves in a position to succeed. As my father says, “once you’ve done all you can do, you can let the chips fall where they may”. We also learned a ton, which matters since that won't be the last project we do.

Challenge yourself

So, if you find yourself in a similar situation one day, don’t give in to wallowing in self-pity and feeling sorry for yourself. Instead, challenge yourself to take an action.

Most importantly, get your team or community involved. When you get your challenges and ideas out into the open, it’s amazing what can happen.

And whatever you do, keep learning, keep growing and keep going!

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

What do you do to stop feeling sorry for yourself?

Leave a comment and let me know.