Facing a Challenge? Ask Yourself This Question


Dealing with a major change? Handling criticism? Up against a roadblock? Need to make an important decision? Whatever challenge you’re dealing with, this powerful question can help you find your way forward.

This question, posed by Christine Porath in her Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace, re-frames difficulties in an insightful and impactful way.

The question: Am I going to fight for my past or my future?

This question gives us a choice between two ways to direct our energy in response to a challenge. How will you respond?

Fighting for the Past

Every choice and situation in our past, whether painful or positive, brought us to the point we are now and made us the people we are today. We must understand and accept our past and not downplay its importance.

However, fighting for the past (especially when we’re stressed) tends to show up as resistance to change, defensiveness, and self-justification. Holding a grudge. Maintaining a chip on our shoulder. Keeping score. Sound familiar?

These kinds of behaviors will not help us reach our goals or successfully navigate the challenge we’re facing. At best, fighting for the past maintains the status quo and, at worst, it keeps us in a defensive perspective that blocks us from better things.

 Fighting for the Future

When we decide to spend our energy toward making ourselves better for the future rather than fight for the past, we free ourselves to deal with the challenge as an opportunity. This keeps us flexible and adaptable rather than rigid and limited in our response to difficulties.

Imagine viewing feedback or a decision point as an opportunity to fight for a better “next time”. Focusing on the future keeps us grounded in reality, thinking about today with an eye on making tomorrow better. Today’s choices become a way to set our future self up for success when we’re up against a new challenge.

Staying in the Fight

Ultimately, it’s about choosing how to spend our energy. The best thing we can do for ourselves is stay in the fight for our future. No one else can fight for us, but everyone can benefit when we are adaptable and alert to the opportunities in the midst of struggle.

This truly is a fight – against complacency, resistance to change, rigid attitudes, self doubt, apathy, and the many other attitudes that rob us of the motivation to fight for our future. To deal effectively with the challenge we face we must re-frame it and find the opportunity to do better next time.

When we fight for our future, we win a victory not just for ourselves but also for those we interact with. By taking a positive stance (instead of defensive) and looking toward improvement (rather than blame) in the face of challenges, we demonstrate leadership and compassion which lead to better relationships and results at work.

How have you been handling your latest challenge? Have you noticed a tendency to fight for the past or the future? How will you commit to fighting for your future as you handle a difficult situation?

Danielle Metzinger is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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richard regan

Great post. I wish Porath would have unpacked the notion of the connection of the past to the present. Particularly as we try to right the wrongs of the past that have been imbedded in our present as they impede our future. One could make the argument that if Blacks ignored the past they would still be enslaved. If America Indians ignored attempts of the federal government to kill them, they would be instinct. If Jews would have ignored the Holocaust, there would have been another Holocaust. Shouldn’t we fight against those things from the past that are still around. Doesn’t ignoring the past maintain the status quo?

Debra Waterfield

My morning devotions today, “The Real Winner!” I Corinthians 9:23-27 and 2 Timothy 4: 7-8 and then reading this article on the question, “Am I going to fight for my past or my future?” – reinforced my determination to continue to run the race, so that I may obtain the incorruptible crown, and fighting the good fight, finishing my course, keeping the faith, to receive the crown of righteousness that the Lord has laid up for me until the day of judgement. – What happened in the past is just that, the past. I have learned from my mistakes and moved on to fight for the future. My commitment to fight for the future is obvious for those of you who know me, to walk by faith according to what God’s word commands me to do. Forgive and forget, and love your neighbor as yourself (that includes those you don’t like!). Work with my co-workers in unity, there is no “I” in team. Adapting to “Change” is constant in the workforce as well as in our personal lives. I recently, what I consider, had a major life change occur by being reassigned to a position in a Division where I knew nothing about, nor the people I would be working with. At first it was a “shock” to learn of the reassignment as it came out of the blue, and was effective 5-7 days after it being announced to me. Rather than having resentment, anger, bitterness, I focused on appreciating the fact I still had a job; a new opportunity to broaden my skills and knowledge – the future. The only one that can fight for my future is myself, with God by my side. My actions and choices are what determine the results. My faith tells me, God is in control of everything, past, present, and future. As long as I live and abide according to the Word of God, my future will be in Heaven one day! I live my life as God first, family second, and job last.


Excellent recommendation for how to shift focus. When emotions and belief systems are beneath the conflict, my experience is that you need to first validate the emotions and nature of the conflict. The more closely tied to a core belief, the harder it is to make the change. The suggestions here are positive. My own method is trying to reach for the better “feeling” thought to continue moving toward the positive. As a society, we don’t practice positive thoughts as much as we verbalize negativity. If you are trying to counter act anger and hatred and strong negative emotions, throwing anger back at it only escalates the emotions. It’s really hard when you have been unjustly dealt with, contrary to the rules and what you were led to believe was right and just, but that is when you must reach for he positive. I heard Wayne Dyer once share a story about a tribe somewhere in Africa, I think, and when a member of the Tribe does something the others disapprove of, that person is called into the middle of the town meeting and everyone has to share only positive things they like about that person. The evidence bore out that even though the correction was by complimenting, no one wanted to be in the middle of that circle. Good food for thought maybe in our “united” United States that seems to need a mother right now to say, “Enough is enough! Is you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Free speech does have limitations on it. One is the offending the prurient interest of the community. Okay, I think we’ve all reached some level of being offended. Anyone want to try being positive? It doesn’t mean you gush over someone you despise or dislike, but try to find something they do well and acknowledge it.

Joanne Dickerson-Harper

Good article that was a further confirmation that in order to build and go forward one must fight for the future. Thanks for reminding me.