As I put my son to bed last night, he asked me to read a favorite book, Zen Shorts. It’s a beautiful tale of three siblings, who encounter a panda bear named Stillwater; he shares with them three stories that convey important lessons from the Zen Buddhist perspective.

One story struck me as eminently potent for those of us in the business world. It’s the story of a farmer whose horse runs away, then returns with two more horses, then the farmer’s son breaks his leg from falling off one of the horses. In the end, when the Army comes to draft boys from the town to fight in a war, the son is not drafted because he’s laid up with a broken leg.

In each instance, friends of the farmer say either Good luck! or Bad luck.

And each time, the farmer replies: “Maybe.”

The villagers don’t understand. Surely a broken leg is bad luck, no doubt about it, and certainly the return of a treasured horse with two new ones to boot is good luck. Of course, you see what they’re getting at. What you think is good may in fact be bad and vice versa.

It’s all in how you look at things.

There have been times when a customer finishes working with me or a new one comes on board that I am inclined to say either GOOD or BAD. But I stop myself. You never know which it is, and it could always be both.

Sometimes circumstances befall us that we are convinced are eminently horrible: divorce, death, injury, betrayal.

And each time, the situation could be viewed through an entirely different lens.

When I was a kid, I believed that grown-ups didn’t play the same petty games we did. I believed that once I left middle school, so would everyone else, that there would be no jealousy or pettiness or popular crowd vs. uncool crowd.

How wrong I was.

People are people, and if we don’t heal our childhood insecurities and wounds during childhood, they will forever plague us. I think we can all agree that adults fall prey to the same ego-driven games as children.

And of course, there are those shining examples of adults and children alike who are always kind, always true, always compassionate and caring and genuine.

It’s the way the world goes. Good, bad, luck, no luck. It’s all in how you choose to see it. A new client can be both. And so can a departing client, a project gone awry, a setback in one’s career.

Think of every situation as an opportunity. It is forever true that when a door closes, a window opens. Always.

Even those who fall on their behinds in the mud have the opportunity, the gift, to see the world from an entirely different viewpoint.

If we choose to see it that way, that is. In business, especially, sometimes when you think you’re at the bottom, maybe you’re really at the top.

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