My 24th birthday was a watershed moment for me. It was the turning point for how I chose to look at circumstances. It all started with a birthday cake and a gift. Growing up I had loved the Care Bears. So my wonderful husband and housemate bought me a Care Bear cake and sweater. But which character did they put on the cake? Which bear was on the sweater? Funshine? Nope. Wishbear? Nope. Braveheart Lion? Nope.

Grumpy Bear.

My husband bought me a huge blue fleece sweater with stupid Grumpy Bear on it. I was livid mad. I might have smiled on the outside. Maybe. But inside I was steaming. Of all the Care Bears, he picked Grumpy Bear. Is that how he saw me? My one defining personality characteristic was grumpy? And not just him, my housemate was in on this as well. They both thought I was Grumpy Bear. I fumed, thinking that this was some sort of passive-aggressive behavior. Using my birthday to point out made-up character flaws.

I put the plastic Grumpy Bear cake topper on my window ledge. I wore my Grumpy Bear sweater. And I decided I didn’t want to be Grumpy Bear. I didn’t want the people closest to me to think Grumpy Bear when they thought of me.

It was a slow process. Slowly learning to approach situations differently. Slowly learning how to look at situations differently. Using a new filter.

One important aspect of mentoring is examining how we are looking at the challenges in a situation and then deciding if viewing it that way is “helpful” or “unhelpful” to reaching the person’s goals.

There is always more than one way to look at a situation. There is always more than one perspective. Some ways really help us move forward. Some ways of processing situations keep us stuck. Or keep us grumpy.

What does this make possible?

A few years back I heard Micheal Hyatt say that he switched his mindset by approaching each situation with this question:

“What does this make possible?”

This has been one of the most powerful questions for me as I deal with challenges, setbacks, frustrations, and tragedy.

The more I have practiced this, the faster I can honestly get to this question. I spend less time irritated or upset. Over the years I’ve been able to honestly apply this question to more challenging situations.

The way you respond to situations can be “helpful” in moving you forward in creating the life you want. Or your response can be “unhelpful.”

Helpful vs Unhelpful Perspectives

“Helpful” and “Unhelpful” are the terms I like to use. Because even an “unhelpful” perspective can be 100% honest, accurate, justified, and reasonable.

I started with small things.

A conflict at work. Running late. A spilled drink.

I worked on how fast I could get to that question, “What does this make possible?”

Then I worked on bigger things.

Getting hurt. Getting sick. A broken down car. Leaking pipes.

Over time it got easier to try to find the upside. To not wallow in anger or disappointment for too long. To not be Grumpy Bear.

It’s almost like muscle memory. Learning to look for the perspective that will move you forward. The one that is “helpful” in getting you to your goals.

It’s been 12 years since I got the Grumpy Bear cake and sweater. I don’t think I’m Grumpy Bear anymore.

With small things, I can jump directly to “What does this make possible?” With more challenging things, it might take a few hours or days to get there. Sometimes we need time to feel the anger, disappointment or grief. After my son unexpectedly passed away, it took me a year. For the whole first year I was just crushed, angry, and overwhelmed by the unfairness of his death. I didn’t want his death to have any positive outcome. I wanted to stay stuck and feel all the feelings. And that’s OK. For a while, that’s OK.

It took about a year for me to accept that the final outcome of my son’s life shouldn’t be my anger. That wasn’t going to be his legacy.

Like I mentioned, this habit has been 12 years in the making for me. Of all the high impact habits I’ve built over the years, this might be the one that gave me the biggest advantage.

Because things will go wrong. In your money, your work, the stock market, your budget, housing prices, it’s not all up and to the right. The people I mentor are going through career transitions. They are restructuring companies, selling companies, finding new jobs, or starting their own business. All the things that might go wrong, the challenges, can create enough hesitation that people might not take the leap. It’s just easier to stay put. Or give up.

Creativity Takes Root in Hope

It takes a tremendous amount of creativity and intentionality to grow your financial freedom. By creativity, I don’t mean art skills. But the ability to think differently, to seek out new solutions, and to process information and ideas outside of the norm. It takes creativity to come up with very low cost, healthy, easy meals. It takes creativity to house hack (where you drastically lower your housing costs, or even get paid to live somewhere). It takes creativity to reduce your expenses by half. It takes creativity to find a side hustle or start a business.

Creativity takes root in hope.

That’s where it lives. Hope that there is another option. Hope that your actions can change your circumstances. Hope that things can get better. When your perspective gives you hope, you will keep searching until you find the thing that works. You can creatively look at situations until you find the perspective that’s helpful.

There are emotions that will stop creativity dead in its tracks. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Regret. Bitterness.

When our perspectives land us there, it’s hard to see a situation from any other angle. It’s difficult to respond creatively. To seek out new solutions, new ideas, new plans. To regroup, dust ourselves off, and try again.

Hope can open up our perspective. Fear, anger or bitterness shuts it down and makes our perspective small.

During the stock market meltdown around 2007, I had a coworker who started investing for the first time. In 3 months, he had “lost” thousands of dollars. So he sold the stocks. I tried to give him a helpful perspective. I tried to explain how this “loss” won’t look like one in 30 years when he’s ready to use that money. He sold his stocks just a few months before the very bottom of the market. If fear, anger and sadness hadn’t shaped his perspective his money would have more than doubled by now. An unhelpful perspective can be costly.

You need the right perspective to get started on any big change. And when things go wrong, because something always will, you need a helpful perspective to keep moving forward.

Learning to find the helpful perspective has pushed me through challenges and setbacks. It’s helped change my disposition. And for those closest to me, it changed me from Grumpy Bear to a positive and powerful force for good.