Sometimes just changing a word can change your outlook on a situation. I’ve seen a couple references lately to the word “pivot” as a way to change your outlook on a situation. I like the fact that using a different word puts you in a more positive frame of mind. It can focus you on the present, rather than trying to predict the future or ruminate on the past. And it also opens up others to see your situation in a different light. Consider . . .
“I quit my job.” When someone says they quit their job, my thoughts immediately turn to financial considerations. How are they going to pay their bills? What about their medical benefits? After asking why, I think the common follow up is to immediately think about the future. What are they going to do next? The word “quit” has a negative connotation. It also has a feeling of failure or giving up.
On the other hand, if the person said something like “I am no longer working there, I am making a pivot in my career” might it take your thoughts elsewhere? As an observer or friend, I am curious about the other person’s current state. What does a pivot mean? What are they thinking of pivoting to? That engages in a conversation about the present moment. Rather than speculating or worrying about the future, the change in words grounds me in the present. Being present is more productive – and instructive. I can speculate all I want about the future, but the odds are the future will turn out differently than I guessed. But a greater understanding about the present is always instructive and constructive.
I’ve also seen that word pivot used as a substitute to the word failure. Rather than, “the project was a failure” it becomes, “based on what I learned, I am going to pivot from this point”. “Failure” is another generally negative word. It makes us reflect backwards (why didn’t it work?). Or it makes us lose confidence. If either of those feelings linger for long, they are not conducive to progress. In fact, failure can often freeze us in place.
On the other hand, a pivot from something that did not go as planned sounds like gain or growth. In basketball, a player will often “pivot” to get away from danger, protect the basketball from a defender or create a new view of the court. Each of those sounds pretty positive! The person is using a pivot to advance their position. A pivot is not an admission of losing, a pivot creates a new viewpoint. Here is another definition of a pivot – “the person in a line, as of troops on parade, whom the others use as a point about which to wheel or maneuver”. So a pivot is an integral part of progress. We all know that life is never a straight line, so a pivot is a required.
How many times have we asked someone about some event or activity they worked on and heard the word “failure” or “disaster”? What can we do when we hear those words? Offer condolence? Ask a couple innocent questions? Change the subject as quickly as possible? In our own mind when we think something is a failure or we quit, are we looking at that as a positive experience? No. Then why use those words?
You might say this is simply “wordsmith”, being politically correct or sugar-coating the situation. A failure is a failure. You are trying to hide from the truth. You are not facing the facts. I disagree. Our outlook, our ability to move forward, is often driven by our attitude. If the right words can help our attitude (and the negative words hurt our attitude), doesn’t it make sense to be a little selective? Why not have a positive attitude? Why not try to use words that get us – and the people we talk to – into a positive mindset?