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All About You: Make the best of every situation

Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

It happened to me years ago, but it left a lasting impression.

I was in the Las Vegas airport. I’d delivered the keynote at a convention the day before and was waiting for my flight to Philadelphia when it – and others – got canceled because of a powerful winter storm that hit the Northeast. The airport was filled with disappointed travelers.

Because I was headed home, I wasn’t worried, but I was annoyed. I waited in line for about an hour to get breakfast, and then …

Sitting alone at a table with three empty seats, I saw a group of people laughing as they waited in line. The trio seemed friendly, so I approached them and asked if they’d mind sitting with a stranger. They heartily accepted.

We had a wonderful time together – and I booked two speaking gigs and a consulting project before we parted. I was so glad my flight was canceled!

You never know what opportunities will arise, even when things go awry. Making the best of every situation is a life skill that will help you succeed both as a safety professional and in your personal life. When things “go wrong” for me, I’ve learned to avoid fretting about it. Instead, I try to learn from the experience and look for ways to benefit from it. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

Here are a few tips.

Don’t give in to negative thoughts

When something goes wrong, we tend to dwell on how it hurts us. That’s OK for a moment, but to “give in” and dwell on your misfortune is counterproductive and will rob you of the pleasure you could experience with positive thoughts. Although I was annoyed when I saw my flight to Philadelphia was canceled, I quickly told myself to snap out of it and enjoy my extended time at the airport. I certainly didn’t expect to get three gigs that day, but I was looking forward to making new airport friends – something I always enjoy doing. Also, I reminded myself of how fortunate I was to be able to fly in the first place.

Learn from what happened

Sometimes there isn’t much to learn when something goes wrong. For example, I had no control over the weather and the date I was traveling. Now and then, though, your own actions help cause a problem. For example, a single instance of oversleeping – in which I barely made it to a talk on time – led me to become an avid double-checker of my alarm settings. It only took that one occurrence for me to create the habit of ensuring I’ve set my alarm for “a.m.” and not “p.m.”

What you can learn from every situation, no matter how distressing, is how to better handle it – including how you react. If you snap at a co-worker or family member because they made a mistake that caused a problem that affected you, you should apologize. But you also should take time to think about what caused you to act that way. Maybe it was a stressful day or you were tired. Whatever the reason, review what may have triggered you and vow to remind yourself to stay calm the next time a similar situation arises.

Stick to your values

One of my values is always to be kind and friendly. Even when someone is rude to me or does something inappropriate, I still strive to react kindly. I’m nice when I meet strangers, no matter what’s happening in my life. Why should someone who doesn’t know me get the brunt of my bad mood? Your values keep you grounded when the going gets tough.

So, the next time you’re in a traffic jam or your flight gets canceled, don’t fret – make the best of the situation. You never know, it could turn into a profitable opportunity.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be considered a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps leaders inspire employees to care more about their safety and health so “nobody gets hurt.” He also has a long history of success getting safety leaders to increase their influence and make safety fun. For more than 35 years, Richard’s safety keynotes, training sessions, books and “Safety Stuff” e-zine have made a positive difference in the safety and health field. Learn more about how Richard can improve your employees’ safety performance at

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