You can’t always get what you want…

But if you try sometimes, you might just find, you get what you need.

The Rolling Stones - You Can't Always Get What You Want

A short time ago I discovered I was unsuccessful in winning a coaching engagement I had thought had my name on it.

As you can imagine, I was fairly devastated.  However, after the obligatory self-pity session – consisting of ice cream over-load, Rolling Stones clips, and a stiff gin and tonic or three, I dusted myself off and decided to consciously find the silver lining to this cloud.

The Rolling Stones "Lose your dream, you lose your mind."

Even in your darkest times, never give up on your dream.

I was startled at the number of constructive outcomes and learnings from this situation.

These insights also led me to pluck up the courage to call my ‘would be’ client and ask for feedback, which led to some valuable insights that I am now extremely grateful for.

It was at this point the magnitude and truth of those lyrics washed over me – you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might just find, you get what you need.

We are conditioned in business  to believe winning, mastery and meeting targets are the only benchmarks of success.

How many times have you heard the statements “there is no margin for error” or “not meeting budget is not an option”?

In addition to this, the often high turnover of executives who do not deliver stellar performances in a short time frame, tell us mistakes and failures are not an acceptable part of the natural process of achieving goals – and are in fact frowned upon in business culture.

I am not advocating behaviour which is born from negative or destructive intention, or is not based on striving for best performance.  Nor am I encouraging leaders to accept the same mistakes repeated, little effort or consistently poor results.

The one truth all successful people and organisations are aware of, is failure is an inevitable stepping stone to the road of success.

It’s what we do with life’s blunders, losses and let downs which enables growth, development, and success to happen.  After all, the ‘Stones’ have been together for fifty years, and despite all their hiccups, are still going strong.

The Rolling Stones - still going strong after fifty years.

The Rolling Stones – still going strong after fifty years.

Here are 4 tips I gleaned from my experience, which might be helpful the next time you don’t get what you want.

1.       What is my response to this situation? What am I feeling?

Although it may seem obvious, writing down your answer may provide surprising results and increased self-awareness.

For example, when I did this exercise, I found my initial response was ‘gutted’, but when I continued I also felt guilty, angry and relieved.

Becoming aware of these other feelings led me to ask myself why I was relieved, from which I also gained some valuable insights.

2.       What is this situation teaching me?

What can I learn from this?  Have I been here before?

If you have been down this road before, and can sense a pattern emerging which does not serve you, ask yourself why, and write down some measures you can put in place to prevent it from happening again.

Ask yourself – “what gets in the way of a more helpful response or approach?”

3.       What am I going to do as a result of this? 

Often it is the feeling of powerlessness that is most debilitating.

However, progressing from the place of ‘victim’ to finding what our options are, even if it is choosing how we respond and think about the situation, can be immensely helpful.

For me, this was deciding to approach the ‘would be’ client and attain some feedback, as well as thanking them for the opportunity.  Having an action plan helped.

4.       Reflect on other past disappointments and let downs (whether it be lost pitches, missing budgets or a crappy presentation).

Hindsight and distance can give us perspective.  Was that crappy presentation you delivered four years ago really that bad?  Did you really mess up that much?

What were the silver linings or learnings that experience provided you with?

5.       Stuff happens. This is the way the world rolls baby.

In other words, remind ourselves that we can’t have light without dark, good times without bad, love without heartbreak, winning without losing, or rainbows without the rain.

Knowing this is the way it’s supposed to be can enable us to lean into it more easily.

As Scott M Peck once said – “Life is difficult”.

And if your disappointment cannot be dulled by these things (or several beers and an extended round of solitaire), just remember the words of the great Keith Richards, and I’m sure you’ll feel a whole lot better:

“It’s great to be here. It’s great to be anywhere.”



  1. Emma Dean (née Traynor) on January 31, 2013 at 5:33 am

    Another extremely well written list of truths Suze x

    • The Leader's Digest on February 2, 2013 at 1:05 am

      Thanks Emma, hopefully you enjoyed the background music as well 🙂

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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