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Let some bad things happen

Posted in the following categories: Decision Making, Personal Development

I have an aversion to bad things.

A misunderstood sentence in a blog post. An update that crashes my website. A missed speaking opportunity because I didn’t reply to someone’s email on time.

More than once, I’ve woken up at 3 in the morning to correct an edition of the Weekly Contrarian before it went out (by “correct,” I mean shuffling some paragraphs and sentences around in a futile attempt to make some point more clear, as Sisyphus rolls his eyes at me).

I know I’m not alone here.

Most of us spend our lives playing defense. We try to prevent little bad things from happening by answering an email here and attending to a notification there.

Here’s the problem: When we spend all our time avoiding little bad things, we have no time left over for great things. We end up fighting the alligators instead of crossing the swamp. To avoid disappointing other people, we disappoint ourselves.

The remedy?

Let some bad things happen.

As a recovering perfectionist, typing that line makes me cringe.

But I remind myself that “bad” comes in degrees. Not all bad things are created equal. There are the big bad things that could lead to catastrophe, and those are worth preventing.

Then there are the little bad things. These are the things that won’t have any long-term negative impact.

We often don’t distinguish between these two categories, treating all bad events as equally bad. To avoid that pitfall, ask yourself, “Is this a little bad thing or a big bad thing? What if I let it fall through the cracks? What might happen, and how likely is it to happen?”

This doesn’t mean you become careless. Quite the opposite. It requires being intentional about what little bad things you’ll let slip by and why.

What would happen if I sent out a newsletter with a typo in it? A few readers would email me to point it out. But most readers wouldn’t let it ruin their reading experience, if they even spot the typo.

What would happen if I didn’t reply to a keynote speaking opportunity in time? I’d lose the opportunity.

Not ideal. But I’m willing to live with it. Because I know that by letting little bad things happen, I get to do great things. I get to spend more time with my family. I get to have more freedom to play and to create. I get to come up with even better ideas for articles and keynotes that will have a bigger payoff in the long run.

Here’s the thing: Something, somewhere is wrong all of the time.

It’s impossible to stay ahead of all the melt on the ice-cream cone.

So let some of the ice cream melt.

Let some emails go unanswered.

Let some people complain.

Let some opportunities slip by.

It’s only by letting the little bad things happen that you can accomplish great ones.

P.S. Did you enjoy my book, Think Like a Rocket Scientist? If so, I’ve got some great news. I’ve partnered with hiitide to offer a Virtual Book Club and micro-course to help readers apply the principles from the book to their daily life.

I’m seeking dedicated community members to become hosts.

If you become a host, you get 40% of the revenue you generate from the book club (you can also choose to donate your earnings to my preferred charity, which is charity: water). Availability is limited, so reserve your spot now. Head over to (click on “sign up to host a book club” and select Think Like a Rocket Scientist from the drop-down menu) or email [email protected] to get set up.

P.P.S. My friend Caroline Webb, who’s the author of the book How to Have a Good Day, just launched a new LinkedIn Live series called “How To Have A Good Day In Uncertain Times.” Every Wednesday at 10 am Eastern, she shares step-by-step, science-backed advice on how to thrive in the face of upheaval. Head over to to learn more and tune in.

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