Some days you arrive at work after a long commute, and you step out of your car. You smile and exchange pleasantries with a coworker who has also just arrived. You pick up the iced coffee you brewed specially for that day, with some pumpkin spice for the first time this year so you can fully enjoy the depth of fall. The sun is shining, and you know today is going to be a great day. You reach for your bag. You spill your coffee all over yourself.
Sometimes you are lucky and it blends into the dark pants you are wearing, and sometimes it spills all over your shirt you have to try to hide it with a sweater during unseasonably warm weather. Every interaction that day is colored by the stain dried into your clothes. You wonder if others notice the stain, if they can smell stench of pumpkin spice that follows you like a ghost. You try to think about your project, but instead you wonder if you should just explain yourself instead of letting them jump to some wild conclusions about why you would be so disheveled today. And just like that, the split second when you didn't quite grab that rubber maid bottle has managed to ruin your entire day.
Or perhaps you don't have days like this, but I certainly do. It's not always spilling coffee, but something just as small can start a chain reaction that throws me into a funk for the rest of the day. Like the office bully saying exactly the wrong thing to me, or figuring out that I missed something obscure last month that is now painfully obvious, or being told by my management to back off of a project I feel is important, or feeling like I've wasted my morning without getting anything checked off of my to-do list. In that moment I feel helpless, because I know how that this is exactly the type of thing that will throw my entire day off and I might as well just go home.
But every morning one of those things doesn't happen isn't a cause for celebration. I don't see each day I don't spill coffee on myself as a win- part of what will allow me to focus enough to get some real work done today. That's because when they don't go wrong, each of those puzzle pieces is just a part of my morning routine that I take for granted. And in a way, sometimes that piece of the day not working perfectly just highlights that the morning is made up of lots of little things that went right: I got up on time; I drove safely; there was no unexpected traffic on my way here; and my coworkers are smiling and friendly. As an engineer, I recognize that making a morning out of hundreds of cases which could all end in a catastrophic failure and none of which guarantee success is a terrible design unless I hope to fail.
I already know that I am not perfect, just like everyone else. I know other people spill coffee on themselves sometimes too, but it's hard to face my own imperfection because I expect more from myself even with the little things. But if only one little thing goes wrong out of the countless of things I do during the morning, maybe I'm actually doing pretty well.
Some days I spill coffee on myself, and it reminds me that a lot of other things went right. Today can still be a great day.