A knock came on my front door at a few minutes after eleven o’clock at night. My son and I were watching television together in the living room, sitting not ten steps from the door. I got up, padded over, and opened it.
A very big guy, mid-twenties, loomed on my front step.
“I need your car keys, man,” he said, in a tone both apologetic and firm.
This was fifteen years ago. In the years leading up to this moment I had made a great deal of money, then lost it. (“The first million,” my friend Scott observed philosophically, “is to blow.” Apparently.) At the time I was freshly post-divorce, living in a small apartment, and struggling financially. And doing even worse than I thought, because here was a repo man standing at my door, about to take away my Lexus.
And now the $64,000 question: what is the most effective way to deal with a situation such as this?
Here’s what I did.
The next day I called the Lexus financing company, in full fury.
They had not given me warning, I told the operator, simmering rage barely in check. Yes, they’d sent me overdue notices, but none had specifically informed me that I was on the verge of repossession. She pointed out that they’d tried calling me. Numerous times. “But you never left a message!” I shot back.
What was I was thinking? That my unassailable logic would cause the company to suddenly change its mind and give me back my car? That righteous indignation would prevail? In any case, that didn’t happen. The call did not end well.
I thought about that conversation long and hard, all that afternoon and all that night. What would have happened, I wondered, if I had come at the thing from a different perspective?
The next day, I called again.
This time, I quietly filled the operator in on what had happened: I had let my payments get too far behind and eventually they’d had no choice but to take back the car. My fault, entirely. She sympathized. I told her I knew there was nothing she could do, I had just let it go too long. She agreed, ruefully. I wondered if she knew where the car was at that point. She checked; it was long gone, by now in the next state, stripped of its license plate and sticker and sitting on the lot awaiting auction.
I nodded, said, “Wow. Well, this sure has been a lesson.”
She paused. Then she said, “Hang on … let me check something.”
A minute later she came back on and said, “You know, you might still be able to get it back.”
I nearly fell out of my chair. “Really,” I said. “Um, what would that entail?”
“Well,” she said, “you’d need to show up at the lot on Monday with $1,400 cash in hand. Have you got a pen? I can give you the address.”
At that instant I had no more than $200 in the world. This was a Friday. That weekend I was hired by a friend to do a writing job that would pay a few thousand dollars—with a down payment of $1,400. That payment would not arrive for days, but I managed to get a quick cash loan from another friend. Monday morning I showed up at the auction lot in a rental, cash in hand, and drove away with my prodigal Lexus.
I drove it through five more years, 100,000 more miles, and a good deal more insight.
In The Go-Giver, Pindar the mentor explains it this way to Joe, the young seeker:
Go looking for conflict, and you’ll find it. Go looking for people to take advantage of you, and they generally will. See the world as a dog-eat-dog place, and you’ll always find a bigger dog looking at you as if you’re his next meal. Go looking for the best in people, and you’ll be amazed at how much talent, ingenuity, empathy and good will you’ll find.
Ultimately, the world treats you more or less the way you expect to be treated. In fact, Joe, you’d be amazed at just how much you have to do with what happens to you.
A positive perspective doesn’t just allow you to see and experience events differently. It can also cause events to happen differently.