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“You’ve been upgraded” are the words everyone wants to hear; that special feeling that comes with an unexpected moment of kismet, like finding a forgotten $20 bill in your pocket or hitting every green light when you’re late. For me, those words came at a moment of sheer exhaustion—mentally, emotionally, and financially—as I struggled with the future of my business as I waited to board an 11-hour flight home from Los Angeles to Helsinki. What I didn’t know then was how the events of this flight would change me forever.
The only thing better than a seat upgrade is having the entire row to yourself. And that’s exactly what happened when I sat down 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 was preparing to take off, a man sat down in the seat next to mine.
This is where I have to tell you about us Finns. We are an authentic, committed and community-oriented type of people, willing to give you the shirt off our backs. But we don’t make small talk, gossip or useless conversations with strangers, in any situation, ever. But against all odds, fueled by plenty of wine and entrepreneurial camaraderie somewhere above Central America, a Finn began talking to another Finn.
Related: 7 Keys to Developing Resilience
A philosophy of two fingers
I told him about my visit, that there had been no money, and that I was still dealing with the well-meaning, but ultimately misguided, feedback I had received from VCs. He told me about his work in the media world. He’d been to Los Angeles for a professional dinner, the chic, bohemian West Coast type, where he’d met a resident who simply called himself “the guru.” This guru had shared advice with my seat mate that he would now share with me. I call it “a philosophy of two fingers” and it goes like this:
Happiness is the distance between thumb and index finger. Your thumb represents a moment when something unfortunate happens to you (such as when someone sits on an airplane seat 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 seat mate).
The shorter the distance between 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’s not easy.
Related: 10 Successful Leaders Share How They Developed the Resilience to Get Through the Most Challenging Times
It’s all between the ears
According to the guru, it’s all between the ears. It’s a conscious decision you make every day not to get stuck in the rut of a bad event — or a failed fundraising tour. And it was just simple enough to cause a big shift in my own story at a time when I really needed it.
My roommate told me he was sure I was doing my very best in all those meetings. And helped me by telling me about the real example I was living: the encounters I had were with people who didn’t “understand” 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 wouldn’t be a good fit for my company.
When life disappoints us, it is difficult to see the event in a larger context. At the moment it may feel like an end, but those moments are actually a beginning. My advice is to reduce the distance between thumb and forefinger. Reduce the distance between disappointment and acceptance. Don’t force or hold on to situations that don’t work. Be brave enough to walk away and know that the next right thing will come. This advice is not for cynics. Believing that life can and will work for you is a choice. You may choose.
I never met the guru and I never exchanged names with my Finnish seat mate, but this “two-finger distance” philosophy has become one of my pillars of resilience. It has taught me to keep my focus on the future and get through my disappointments quickly. I no longer worry about what is out of my control and I never allow rejection to distract me from my passion. It worked for me – and it may work for you too.
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