Have you ever actually watched ducks or geese? Yes, ducklings or goslings do tend to follow their parents in a line – sometimes. But if you’ve ever lived near a pond or lake like I did while I lived in the Midwest, you may notice something different. They are messy and territorial. They take their time crossing the street. And they almost never walk in a row.

Recently I experienced a disappointment causing my day to go off the rails. A strategic business partner had promised to do something – several times – and here I sat, two weeks later waiting for their action item to be completed so I could take over and start my task. I know – not exactly earth-shattering news. But what happened afterwards made me think.

Every few days, we had a check in and I was supposed to receive their portion of the work product the next day. There had been a number of extenuating circumstances – all valid – and I had been so busy with other tasks, I just kept rearranging and completing other items on my To Do List. But now I was up against a hard deadline – I was going out of town to work on-site with my top client for five days and then had a family trip to celebrate a 55th wedding anniversary. The idea of toasting champagne at our hosts’ home and quickly running back to my laptop was getting me angrier and more frustrated by the moment. I had purposely completed my initial portion of the work early so I wouldn’t be running up against this kind of deadline.

I made one last ditch effort to communicate knowing the partner team had a big event and probably wouldn’t even been available. And then crickets – not a word. I sat in my office stewing. My husband poked his head into my office and I went on a tirade about what had happened. He listened and then said, “You can’t control what they do or don’t do today. In fact, the delay is going to cause them more problems because they have all the work at the end. This really hurts them more than you.”

While he was right, I didn’t feel much better. So, I sat and asked myself this question, “What is the most important thing I could do for my business right now? Was this project it?” Perhaps it was the most urgent – the thing that was keeping me up at night – but it was not the most important. The most important task had been nagging at me for the past two months. I had promised myself I would spend some quality time strategically looking at my business and updating my next 30-90-180 plan. Because I had been putting it off to do AFTER I had completed this project, I was feeling double the pressure to finish. This delay wasn’t just messing with this project – it was my whole business!

So, looking at what I could do, I spent the remainder of the afternoon brainstorming on the various things I would be doing for me and my business over the next 6 months. Every item is on a post-it on my wall ready to be organized into my action plan. By the end of the afternoon, my mood had changed from being a very irritated and disappointed partner to back to being the productive leader of my business. Yes, there is some partner accountability issues I need to address.

But this is the lesson.

I had set myself up for the disappointment and created the roadblock because I had told myself I wasn’t going to work on anything major until I had completed this project. I was the one who created an arbitrary schedule that in the end was making me crazy. I was waiting for “my ducks” to line up and it just didn’t happen.

I thought about other times when this happens in our lives – small and large.  A friend cancels dinner, a project gets delayed or a new relationship doesn’t work out and we lament the change in plans or expectations. There is a detour on our planned route and we don’t have the extra time to accommodate the change. It’s the expectation that goes with the plan that creates the problem – not the plan itself.

When we take responsibility for our expectations and understand they are just that – expectations that we create – realistic or not – it becomes much easier to bounce back. And travel down the road – in a row – or not!