I felt bad for my kids for calmly enduring the heat and the darkness. I felt bad for my wife because I knew I disappointed her even if she made no mention of it.
It was entirely my fault. Not that of the bank, which supposedly received my payment, nor that of Meralco, which disconnected our electricity supply. It was nobody’s fault but mine.
At about five in the afternoon, my daughter messaged me through Telegram (a new mobile app) that there was still no electricity at home. They had no power even before noon. I replied by telling her that Meralco would have it reconnected within the day. “Yeaayyy!!! Thank you, Papa,” my daughter replied with delight, which made it even more crushing. She would only call me “Papa” when she’s trying to be sweet and cute. She said “thank you,” though I was the reason why her younger sister was roaming around the house shirtless because of the heat.
So I came clean. I told her that it was my fault, that it was I who messed up with the payment and that I was the reason they were suffering the consequences. Her reply (“Oh, okay. It’s oki”) crushed me further. Here’s a child, bored and maybe patiently dealing with a cranky little sister and with nightfall looming, telling me that everything was okay.
This guilt needed an outlet. Sadly, my wife was at the receiving end. My wife did not fault me for this; not her tongue, not her fingers, and not even her eyes. After learning that there’s no electricity at home, she told me to consider auto-debiting the electricity payments. I snapped at her. I snapped at her because probably, I was in my “I’ll-get-angry-first-because-I-know-I-am-at-fault” mode. I said “Okay! Okay! Okay!” in a tone that she did not deserve.
“Why are you angry with me?” she asked. Maybe I apologized to her, maybe not, I couldn’t remember anymore. All I could remember saying was, “This had been weighing me down all day,” in a tone that could only be expected from a helpless child.
She reached out to me, with her hand touching my shoulder and letting it run down my back. I guess that was all I needed at that moment: a moment of honesty with myself and a supportive wife beside me. Upon reaching home that night, we still had no electricity. I saw my kids sleeping in the living room because it was unbearably hot inside their bedroom. We slept through the heat.
There are a number of insights from that incident which I have reflected on:
“It’s not what happens but how you react to it that matters.”
“Take responsibility for your mistake and do not pass the blame.”
“Learn from your mistakes.”
But there is another lesson that seems to be equally important but which is often taken for granted. Continuing with my story: the moment I saw our darkened house from afar, I contemplated on transporting my family to a hotel for the night. That was the right thing to do for my kids, right? I had to atone for my mistake. As I walked inside the house, flashlight in hand, I asked myself: What am I really trying to accomplish with this decision? To assuage my guilt? To spare my wife and myself from spending the night without electricity?
That night, we just stayed home because I couldn’t find the right answers that would convince me to transfer to a hotel. And what message would I be sending to the kids? We stayed put because I felt that there was no long-term benefit to such a decision.
Life is not about the quick fixes and overnight solutions. Life should be treated as a long game no matter how short your life on earth would eventually be. Your decision after your initial reaction to a failure is just as important as that first move. Every decision should be based on being able to meet the desired objective, with the long game in mind. Let’s not fall for the short game, the knee-jerk reaction, the instant gratification, especially at the expense of our long-term vision.
My overnight hotel solution could have made me win the short game. It would have relieved my guilt to see my kids happy in the hotel room. I would definitely have had a restful sleep as well. But I think it would not help me win the long game of life. Experiencing the consequences of my own mistake could leave a more lasting mark on me than the alternative. Also, an escape to the hotel that night would have denied me and my kids a learning experience on developing patience, cultivating gratefulness and extending grace to one another.
We will fail more than once in this lifetime. We’ll fail ourselves, our family, our organizations. Yes, we have been bombarded with lessons on how to react and learn from our failures. But we often forget to think about the long game in responding to these failures. Every decision that we make for ourselves and for our organizations should not only consider the ‘now’ but also the ‘twenty years’ later.
I’m still not using the auto-debit charging from my credit card. Stubbornness is another issue for another day. But I’m now remitting payments earlier and my daughter makes sure that she’ll always remind her Papa to pay the electricity bills before the due date. It is irrelevant if you agree or not with the decision that I took. Forget the short story, but don’t forget the long game.
Anton Ng is a partner at Audit & Assurance of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 partners and more than 850 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit our website: www.grantthornton.com.ph.
As published in The Manila Times, dated 19 July 2017