One day over the recent holiday period, my wife and I were hosting our 7- and 4-year old grandchildren for the day. When they arrived, they raced to our door each wanting to be the first to open the door. On this day, the younger child arrived at the door first and burst through the door to our welcoming arms. The older child stopped on the deck, sat down, and started crying. When we asked why she was crying, she said, “I wanted to open the door first because you are always so happy to see us.” To us, it seemed like such a minor thing to come through the door second, not first. But to her, it made a huge difference for that day. Children often lack the ability to keep things in proper perspective. However, adults also struggle with perspective. Our inability to master it can significantly impact our happiness, success, or ability to cope with life. Today, let’s look at ‘perspective’ and why it is so important for us to master.
Perspective is often defined as a point of view or particular way of considering something. It is an ability to take a few steps back and look at a situation or something with different eyes… with a different focus. When we lose perspective, we become so close to one thing or to a particular viewpoint that we fail to consider any other way of looking at that situation. As a result, a lack of perspective can prevent us from solving a problem, making an impact, or addressing a concern. At its worst, poor perspective can result in a complete lack of focus and failure.
So, having the ability, or skill, to view situations with a broader perspective (e.g., by taking a few steps back and viewing the situation from a new viewpoint) is essential to our success in work, life, and family. John Sununu (former Governor and Senator from New Hampshire) once said,
“Perspective gives us the ability to accurately contrast the large with the small, and the important with the less important. Without it we are lost in a world where all ideas, news, and information look the same. We cannot differentiate, we cannot prioritize, and we cannot make good choices.”
Why is perspective so important? What are the benefits of seeing situations with a broad perspective? Let’s look today at four key elements of perspective:
- Perspective allows us to benefit from our experiences from the past – When we get so close to a situation that we lose perspective, we often fail to apply the skills we have already learned to deal with today’s problems. Let’s face it… we have all made mistakes in the past. Hopefully, these mistakes were catalogued and now can be used to help us avoid similar mistakes in the future. When we fail to retrieve that prior experience, we are bound to repeat history. When we learn to step back from a situation and consider how we dealt with similar ones in the past (either successfully or unsuccessfully), we have a step up on conquering today’s events.
- Perspective allows us to look at the future impact of situations or events – Today’s “big” challenges often become much smaller when viewed through the lens of the future. However, failing to utilize this lens can fool us into thinking that our situation is bigger, or worse, or more significant than it really is. Being able to view any situation from the viewpoint of tomorrow… or next week… or next year can make a remarkable difference to how we see things today.
- Perspective ensures that we consider the impact to people – When we see today’s challenges too closely, we often fail to consider its impact on anyone else. We become focused on self when we fail to utilize a proper perspective. Then, with the focus totally on the impact we experience, we may fail to recognize how our actions can impact our teammates, our family, or our friends. When we step back, other people start appearing in the picture. And, when we start to see the viewpoint of others, our actions often change… for the better.
- Perspective ensures that we stay focused on the purpose – I can recall many times in my own past when dealing with a particularly challenging work situation that we became so focused on today’s issues that we forgot complete our purpose, or the ultimate goal. When we lose perspective, we might win the battle, but lose the war simply because we shifted our eye off the ball. Perspective is ensuring that our every action is balanced against our ultimate objective.
So, how can we master perspective? How can we ensure that we always take that step back to broaden the picture? I believe that if we remember to ask 4 key sets of questions in any challenging situation, we’ll always retain a proper sense of perspective:
- Have I ever experienced anything similar in the past? How did I deal with it that can help me deal with my challenges today?
- Will this really matter tomorrow? Next week? Next year? If this is really not that important, why am I stressing so much about it today?
- Who else is impacted by this situation? How can I ensure that they are not harmed? Would involving others help get a better result or help me deal with make better choices?
- What are we really trying to accomplish? What is the mission? How can I keep my eye on that ball and not be deflected by today’s challenges?
Life is already challenging enough. When we fail to exercise proper perspective, we are much more likely to make poor decisions or incur significantly more stress that is needed or necessary. Learn to take that step back in any key situation or challenge to ensure that you have mastered the essential art of perspective.
“A little perspective, like a little humor, goes a long way.” – Allen Klein –