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“You’re upgraded” are the words everyone wants to hear; that special feeling that comes along with an unexpected moment of kismet, like finding a forgotten $20 bill in your pocket or hitting every green light when you’re running late. For me, those words came at a moment of sheer exhaustion — mentally, emotionally and financially — as I grappled with the future of my company while waiting to board an 11-hour flight home from Los Angeles to Helsinki. What I didn’t know at the time was how the events of that summer would change me forever.
The only thing better than a seat upgrade is having an entire row to yourself. And that’s exactly what happened as I settled in for a blissful 11 hours all to myself to relax, decompress and strategize. “This is so reasonable. This is so fair,” I enjoyed. But that feeling didn’t last long. As the plane prepared to take off, a man sat down in the seat next to mine.
Here I have to tell you something about us Finns. We are authentic, loyal and community-oriented people, ready to give you the shirt off our back. But we don’t engage in small talk, small talk, or idle talk with strangers in any situation, at all. Still, despite everything, fueled by lots of wine and entrepreneurial camaraderie somewhere above middle America, one Finn started talking to another Finn.
Related: 7 Keys to Developing Resilience
The philosophy of two fingers
I told him about my visit, that there was no funding and that I was still digesting the well-intentioned but ultimately wrong feedback I had received from the VC. He told me about his work in the media business. He was in Los Angeles for a professional dinner, a posh, bohemian West Coast, where he met a local man who referred to himself only as “the guru.” This guru shared a tip with a colleague of mine who was now about to share it with me. I call it the “two finger philosophy” and it goes like this:
Happiness is the distance between your thumb and forefinger. Your thumb represents the moment when something unfortunate happens to you (like when someone takes the seat on the plane that you hoped would remain empty). And the index finger represents the moment when you can accept that event and move on (when you decide to share a glass of wine with that colleague).
The shorter the distance between your thumb and forefinger — between disappointment and acceptance or between an unfortunate event and making the best of it — the happier and more successful your life can be. Sounds simple, right? IT IS. But it is not easy.
Related: 10 Successful Leaders Share How They Developed Resilience to Push Through the Most Challenging Times
It’s all in the mind
According to the guru, everything is in the mind. It’s a conscious decision he makes every day not to get stuck in the rut of a bad event — or a failed fundraising tour. And it was simple enough to cause a major shift in my own narrative at a time when I really needed it.
My colleague told me that he was sure that I did my best in all those meetings. And he helped me by telling me through a real-life example that I lived: the meetings I had were with people who didn’t “get” my idea. They didn’t understand the market or the product I was building. So he challenged me, “Why would you want to work with them?” Those VCs would not be a good fit for my company.
When life disappoints us, it is difficult to see the event in a wider context. In a moment it may feel like an end, but those moments are actually beginnings. My advice is to shorten the distance between your thumb and index finger. Shorten the gap between disappointment and acceptance. Don’t push or stay in situations that aren’t working. Be brave enough to walk away and know that the next right thing will come. This advice is not for the cynic. Believing that life can and will work out for you is a choice. You can choose.
I never met a guru and never exchanged names with my Finnish colleague, but this philosophy of “between two fingers” distance became one of my pillars of resilience. He taught me to keep my focus on the future and to move quickly through my disappointments. I no longer stress over what is out of my control and I never let rejection distract me from my passion. It worked for me — and it can work for you, too.
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