The minute I walked into the Tampa airport, I knew I’d blown it. But it was too late. The Uber was long gone, and with it, my phone.

When you consider the major problems you might have, this problem of mine was ridiculously minor. But when you lose something important, like a phone, it’s also easy to lose perspective.

“Tragedy,” said Mel Brooks, “is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

If you’d asked that day in Tampa why I was upset, I’d have blamed the lost phone. But that’s a poor explanation. 

Underneath every upset, said psychologist Albert Ellis, is an irrational thought—that’s the real culprit, the cause of most stress. 

So in my case . . .

Problem: lost phone.

Irrational thought: I can’t believe how stupid it was to . . . I can’t believe . . .

Ever tell yourself something like that? An irrational thought is like a bad TV commercial; it repeats, over and over. 

Although you can’t avoid mistakes, you certainly can avoid, or at least shorten, the second mistake, which is beating yourself up over the first one. 

Meanwhile, at the airport, the flight back to Boston was delayed, they announced, “because our first flight attendant, who’s driving to the airport, is stuck in traffic.”

Stuck in traffic? That’s not a crowd-pleasing explanation. “I got stuck too,” said a nearby passenger. “But, somehow, I got here.”

So we left an hour late. Multiply that lost hour by 200+ passengers, and you’ve got a 200 hour mistake.

When we finally boarded, the late flight attendant explained, to the entire plane, that he completely misjudged the time needed to drive to Tampa from Orlando. 

He didn’t blame the traffic, he owned the mistake. That takes guts. But then he ended with a cheerful, “Hey, we’re all here now, so it’s all good!”

All good? That’s the wrong thing to tell 200+ cranky passengers.

But not a bad thing, if you’re the flight attendant, to tell yourself.

Tip: It’s good to publicly acknowledge and own your mistakes.

But internally, when managing yourself, consider the tennis star, Billie Jean King. After an error, she re-visualized the shot, as if done well. Then she let it go.

(Later that week, I got back my phone. I’m still searching for perspective.)


P.S. SHIFT YOUR PERSPECTIVE—and your approach—whether giving a presentation, talking with clients, or muttering to yourself.

—Virtual workshop—I’ve been leading Dynamic Speaking, a four-session course for small teams. We practice how to get heard, get remembered, and get results.

—Webinars—e.g. Bulletproof Feedback; Your Point?—Be Concise; The Power of Presence; Stories that Work; Resilience @ Work. . . Click here for all 12 programs.

—1-1 Coaching—I’ll help you with design (what to say) and/or delivery (how to say it with presence). Click here for details.

P.P.S. Or try my latest book: You’ve Got 8 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World. Selected by a Fortune 50 company for their book club, translated into five languages, named one of the best biz books of the year by an obscure, but obviously brilliant, Canadian newspaper. Available in print , kindle, audio.

PAUL HELLMAN consults & speaks internationally on how to make your point—fast, focused, powerful. For more info: please call 508-879-0934, or email

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