What to do when the wheels fall off

I’m not having the best morning.

For a little side income, I rent my car out using Turo –basically AirBnB for cars. This morning I had to deal with a near-disaster when one of the lug nuts came off a front wheel while a renter was driving the car. It was all my fault, because I just rotated the tires myself and forgot to re-tighten the nuts after driving it. Fortunately, we were able to catch it before something tragic happened.


As a business owner, that is clearly an unacceptable customer experience and I owe them a full refund of the rental fee. So now I am out $100 because I tried to save $20 by doing my own maintenance. The silver lining, I suppose, is that I will never forget to re-tighten the lug nuts when I put a wheel on my car.

That’s actually not the only wheel falling off in my life right now, metaphorically speaking. A couple weeks ago my managing partner called me up and told me that I had been ranked at the bottom of my peer group in the annual evaluation, and would be given the opportunity to complete a performance improvement plan to keep my job.

I was completely blindsided by this news. I knew that I hadn’t had a stellar year, but my performance metrics weren’t that bad. After getting over the initial shock, I started talking to people involved in the evaluation process and discovered that this was mostly a political result, rather than an accurate reflection of my performance. In fact, my counselor, who was supposed to represent me in the evaluation process, was absent from the conference call in which my peer group was ranked. I never had a chance!

I’m not trying to pass blame. I did not have a great year as a consultant, and I did not do outstanding work for my clients. I also did not do enough networking and rapport-building within my own company, which is an important part of the unavoidably subjective process of evaluating and ranking employees.

But… it would be easy to blame my previous manager, blame my counselor, or blame stupid corporate HR processes for my situation. I have more than enough justification to support the hypothesis that I am just fine and don’t need to change a thing.

Netflix recently released a documentary entitled Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru. It follows the action at one of Tony’s six-day transformation seminars in Palm Beach, Florida. There are some remarkable and compelling storylines, and you can get a good taste of Tony’s philosophy and teachings just by watching.

In one of the first “interventions” that is captured in the film, Tony takes a young woman who claims she wants to eat healthier and gets her to acknowledge that her self-image issues actually stem from her hatred for her addict father.

His message to her is this: if you want to blame your father for your flaws and shortcomings, then you need to blame him for your strengths and talents as well. You can’t unfairly dump all your negatives on him and keep the positives for yourself.

This is an enduring message in Tony’s story as well. His father was absent and his mother was an abusive alcoholic, but he considers them absolutely essential to his current success. It’s a simple word substitution–some would say he is successful in spite of his upbringing, while he adamantly believes that he is successful because of his upbringing.

If only we could all be so lucky to come from a broken home, right? That would be the sarcastic response, and I have to say it because I know some of you may be thinking it. But that’s not the point.

The point here is that Tony Robbins chooses to interpret his past in a certain way, because that interpretation leads to a different set of behaviors. He calls this process reframing:

Reframing isn’t about pretending a situation is great when it may not be. Rather, it’s about discovering what could be great, what you could learn by consequence or how you can use the situation to create a better outcome. Perspective is a powerful thing. When you can reframe a particular experience or interaction, you can often change what happens as a result.

The same message appears in a story about Thomas Edison, recounted by Ryan Holiday in his book The Obstacle Is The Way. When Edison’s factory burned down in 1914, his only response was to immediately rebuild and start over. Edison was 67 years old at the time, and he lost years of research and prototypes in the fire, not to mention millions of dollars in plant and equipment. How did he speak of this unfair twist of fate?

“I’ve been through a lot of things like this. It prevents a man from being afflicted with ennui.”

Edison had every reason to frame this event as a sign that his business was over, and it was time to retire. Instead, he considered it an opportunity to “get rid of a lot of rubbish” and start from scratch. He borrowed money to get a new factory up and running, and his company was back to earning millions in revenue before the end of the year.

Earlier today I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and noticed a post by a budding entrepreneur in the Zero To Launch private forum. He announced his second successful product launch, and provided a look back over the past 18 months to show how he had gotten there. The bottom line message was this: just follow the steps in Zero To Launch exactly as prescribed, and you will get results.

I’ll be honest–my initial response was despair. I’ve had ZTL for over a year and I check the forums pretty often, so I’ve seen all of this guy’s progress along the way. After all this time, he has a growing business and I have… a website with five blog posts that gets zero traffic.

This is the frame of resignation. I interpret that guy’s success as evidence that I am hopeless, that I just don’t have what it takes to start a business. Might as well throw in the towel now before I waste any more time on this.

There is another way to frame this information though, and it was reflected in some of the comments on his post, like this one:


Here I am, using this post as evidence that I should give up, while someone else reads the exact same words and feels “boosted up”. What gives? The difference, in a word, is framing.

When I got the news that I might lose my job due to poor performance, I could have framed it as bad luck and office politics. But I recognized that the behaviors which would have resulted from that framing were not going to help me. Instead, I chose to frame it as an opportunity. What behaviors resulted from that framing?

First, I did some introspection into the causes of my poor performance, and recognized that I was very bad at asking for help. I was in over my head on one project in particular, and the only way I was going to succeed was to rely on my colleagues to get me up to speed quickly. Instead, I convinced myself that everyone was “too busy” to help me and that I needed to prove I could handle it on my own. I wanted to protect my ego, and the client suffered as I barely managed to meet the expectations of the job.

Second, I calmly considered the prospect of being unemployed within two months and what options I would have at that point. My current job is not my dream job, not by a long shot. It was the only offer I received before graduating last year, so obviously I had to take it. What if I took this time to do a proper job search, and maneuver myself into a role that I actually enjoyed? What if I worked for a company who was happy to have me?

It sucks that I might be fired soon, but framing the situation as an opportunity has led to actions which proactively move me toward favorable outcomes.

Similarly, when the wheels almost came off of my car, I could have focused on the hundred bucks I lost and the possible ding to my 100% five-star customer rating on Turo, all because of a stupid mistake! Instead, I framed that cost as my tuition for a couple important lessons in automotive maintenance and customer service.

And what about starting a business? I can’t lie to myself–the reason that my business attempts have not moved forward is because of my behavior. I haven’t taken action. So when I read a success story from someone who is following the exact same system to create an online business, I need only choose the right frame and his words can become the fuel to lead me to take action. I’ve been reframing other events in my life with positive results, so why not use it here too?