Finding That Secret Ingredient

         Last month, my MSL colleague, Lizzy Newman, brought us her insightful perspective on the subject of disappointment. As a hurdle that inevitably intrudes upon our journeys, regardless of how prepared we may think ourselves to be, I couldn’t resist chiming in as well.

         After all, life can have its sour moments—something I trust you’ve already discovered through your own adventures. There inevitably comes a time when things not only fail to work out as we had initially planned, but a subsequent wave of bad luck comes crashing down upon you to compound the apparent hopelessness of the situation. When the tide abates, and we find ourselves back on our feet once again, we are immediately faced with a choice. In moments like this, it’s likely that you’ve been counseled by friends and family to take the higher road, “when life gives you lemons, we make lemonade.”

         As a common piece of advice that I’ve heard all too often throughout my own career, this phrase serves as a reminder that human beings have a natural tendency to respond to negativity in kind. Our "fight or flight" response kicks into gear in the face of emotional and psychological threats just as well as it does to impending physical harm. From that moment on, it's easy to lose ourselves in a sort of auto-pilot. In these cases, our gut reaction is to either fight back at the source of our (perceived) attacks, or retreat from the issue by piling up a rambling wall of excuses and self-justifications. In doing so, we’re simply piling more of our own lemons on top of life’s unanticipated offerings. In making lemonade, however, we’re called to use our energies in a more positive and productive light; making use of what’s been placed on our lap rather than simply adding to the pile. It reminds us of the incredible power of perception, and the infectious changes that can be inspired by adjusting your worldview.

          And yet, the beauty of this metaphor is that it calls for so much more than a change in perspective. Turning life’s unwanted lemons into something delicious involves more than simply re-framing the situation. No matter how you look at it, a lemon is a lemon. Crafting it into something more palatable requires the interjection of a balancing agent. To make a proper lemonade, you’ve got to add something sweet.

          When life—or someone acting as life’s proxy—knocks us down a peg, the immediate gut reaction is to respond in a similar fashion. And yet, as most chefs will tell you, fighting one strong flavor with an equally strong flavor of the same variety rarely results in an edible dish. The best, and admittedly most challenging, response is to take a breath, make a mental inventory, and select a response that smoothly counteracts the offensive ingredient. Meeting animosity and obtuseness with kindness and patience will produce more impactful results in the long run.

          As a student of criminal justice, I’ve enjoyed applying Locard’s Exchange Principle—that every interaction leaves a trace—to human personalities. Indeed, I’ve discovered it to be perfectly applicable throughout my time in the world of customer service as a retail associate. Every day, we have the opportunity to make an impression on others through seemingly mundane and pointless interactions. Unfortunately, through negligence or malice, some misuse this opportunity as a means of venting or deflecting personal frustrations. During my time as a cashier, I had borne the brunt of these encounters on a number of occasions. Rather than return the favor, I became well known amongst our regulars for ending each interaction with a quick smile and a tip of my cap. The small gesture went a long way with my guests, and even caused a couple of our more hot-headed visitors to stop and reconsider the tune they were currently singing.

          Making lemonade out of lemons isn’t a one-step balm for these more agitating moments, it’s a choice that requires commitment, patience, and a little ingenuity. In facing down life’s challenges, asking the question “how would I like to be remembered” is always pertinent. Through each interaction, we are continually shaping our own, personal brand; even the smallest of negative episodes can irreparably stain the intended hue of our personal aura. To avoid such contamination, and ensure that you are always putting your best foot forward, take a moment to ensure that you are continually injecting a bit of your own spirit and personality into your more instinctive responses to life’s curve-balls. This is the secret ingredient that will help you sweeten its sourer surprises. 


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