Years ago, one of my mentors named Steve, was leading a commercial real estate development company with two other partners. Through a lot of hard work, they had uncovered the deal of a lifetime, and attracted a large, well known retailer to anchor a development. Months were spent working on paperwork and legal documents. Steve’s company then went to many different banks successfully securing millions of dollars of funding.

After many months, all the due diligence was complete, and they had a finish line in sight. Each partner would make a significant profit once the contract was completed. The signatures were gathered, and the deal would go through at 5:00 AM the next morning. The guys were so excited and couldn’t believe that this was actually going to happen.

At 4:59 AM, the unthinkable happened. The large retailer called and completely backed out of the deal. Not only were they not going to make millions, but because they had secured significant financing they were now stuck owing millions of dollars back to all the banks. Can you say, “Gut punch!”?

The guys all got together a few days after the deal fell apart to figure out what they were going to do. How easy it must have been to point their fingers blaming the large retailer or even each other. Instead, Steve chose to take a different approach.


Let me pause here for a second. When life happens, and we find ourselves in a deep valley, our natural inclination is to begin pointing our fingers and blaming people, things, and circumstances. The toughest part is to not allow your team or yourself to go down that road, but instead look at yourself. Let’s get back to Steve to see what he chose to do.


In that moment where the frustration was high, but a plan was necessary, Steve chose to ask the first of two key questions to jump start their comeback. “What behaviors got us here?” The beauty of that question is that it forces you to look at yourself instead of playing the blame game. I know that when I’ve failed, I’ve exhibited behaviors like greed, pride, and jealously. This is a true north moment for both your team and you. You can’t hide, and if you choose to put a layer of spin on things, your team will smell it out in a heartbeat. Painful as it was, Steve’s team stepped up and with courageous honesty, made their list.

But Steve wasn’t done. Now that they had listed their behaviors that got them in the mess, he asked the second key question, “What behaviors will we need to get us out?” This question is powerful because in it is hope and the focus needed to construct a plan. We are never truly stuck. Growth and change are always possible if we put in the grit and rigor required to push through.

When a train wreck in life happens, ask yourself two questions, 'What behaviors got us here?' and 'What behaviors will we need to get us out?'

I know the temptation is to skip past the first question because it’s painful and laced with shame and guilt. However, you cannot answer the second question without answering the first. Time must be spent digging into what got you in the valley in order to truly figure out how to get out.

The plan Steve’s team built wasn’t easy and would take mountains of discipline. Instead of declaring bankruptcy, which was the easy thing to do, they built a plan and then rigorously worked the plan. Through having other jobs and owning a separate retail company, they all began to pay the debt back.

At the end of 2017, after 10 years, the debt was fully paid! Their business turnaround strategy worked and their comeback was complete! In that time their separate retail business had grown from 2 locations to 43. If they had chosen to declare bankruptcy it would have completely tied their hands and not enabled them to continue to move forward with other opportunities.

You may not owe millions of dollars to multiple banks because a deal went bad, but if I had to guess, you’ve found yourself in some pretty deep valleys. I know I have, and these two questions have significantly helped me to grow and figure out how to move forward. So, whether you’re in a tough place now, just digging out, or free-falling down into it, ask yourself those two questions. They will be exactly what you need to fuel your comeback!