Don’t Make Lemonade: A Better Approach for When Life Gives Us Lemons

We’ve all heard that old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  It’s a nice sentiment, and might look good on a T-shirt or greeting card, but I don’t think it’s quite right.  There’s a more productive way to think about what to do with those lemons.

Don't Make Lemonade

Dealing With Lemons

In 1915, Marshall Pickney Wilder passed away.  You may not recognize the name, but in his time, he was quite well-known as a popular American actor, raconteur, humorist, and sketch artist. 

During his long career he traveled to England, performed for royalty, authored three books, appeared in 12 silent films, and undertook a world tour.  By all accounts he was a successful professional entertainer, and a common household name.

He was also three and a half feet tall. 

Wilder once joked, “Dame Nature…put a couple of feet under me, but she left a couple of feet off of my stature.”  Though life may have served him up more than his fair share of lemons, he refused to let his physical limitations define who he was. 

He shunned offers from the likes of P.T. Barnum to join circus side-shows and instead developed his abilities as an actor and artist.  Over time, he became known more for his skills and savvy than his size.

When Wilder passed away, writer and artist Elbert Hubbard published an obituary about him that he titled The King of Jesters.  In it, he praises Wilder’s eternally optimistic attitude and his achievements despite his physical limitations:

He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade-stand. - Elbert Hubbard Click To Tweet

Don’t Make Lemonade

It’s this version of the “lemons” saying that I like better.

I understand the idea behind the one we are more familiar with:  when we’re handed a sour deal, find a way to make something good out of it.  A drink of juice is good. 

But why stop there?

In Hubbard’s description, Wilder didn’t just make a glass of lemonade that would soon be gone.  He wasn’t going to go the easy side-show route.

He made enough to share, to sell, even to make a living by. 

It’s the difference between lapsing into something easy of minimal value, or working for something greater with lasting value.  It’s also the difference between killing time and investing it.

The key is in not spending time, but in investing it. – Stephen R. Covey Click To Tweet

Room at the Inn

A friend of mine and his wife run the Rosewood Country Inn Bed and Breakfast up in New Hampshire.  Like many in this season, his business is taking a hit from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  His response to empty rooms?  

Rosewood Inn Dining Room - Making LemonadeHe’s rented a sander and plans to refinish the hardwood floors of his Inn.  He’s also gotten supplies and patterns to make Adirondack chairs for the front porch.  As he said, “This place is going to shine like a new penny by the time this is done!

I think he’s got the right approach to all of this – he’s building his lemonade stand.

Our life patterns are changing, but with that change comes opportunity.

New Life, New Habits

Right now we are in the process of establishing a “new normal.”  Like driving across a muddy field, we are forging new paths in soft soil.  Repeat that pattern often enough, and we’ve built a road. 

We’re developing new habits. 

Soon those muddy tracks will harden into ruts that will be more difficult to escape, and habits that are harder to quit.  Right now is when we influence what kind of habits those are, and whether we end up calling them “good” or “bad.”  Why not make them “good?”

Binge-watching a series on Netflix may provide temporary distraction of limited value – lemonade.  Instead, how about building something that has lasting future value – a lemonade stand.

We can start by setting a goal.  Maybe it’s making physical improvements to property like my friend in New Hampshire.  It could be taking on-line courses, reading useful books, re-connecting with close family, or learning to cook.

Whatever it is, make it something that, when you look back, you’ll be glad you did. 

When the pandemic is over, what good do we want to be able to say came from it? What should we be doing about that now? Click To Tweet

Next, build a plan for putting that lemonade stand together.  Success in goal-achievement comes when we break that goal down into sub goals, and then those sub-goals into concrete, achievable daily steps. 

As we are building our new daily habits, we can include those steps into our “Life Pattern 2.0,” and just make it part of what we do.  This short video describes something called the “Habit Cycle” and how we can essentially put our brains on auto-pilot so that we just do what needs to be done.

This video is extracted from the Goal Mastery Course I offer on line.  There are many more ways to strengthen this process, with powerful tools like social accountability, visualization strategies, daily celebration, and pacing. 

If you want to learn more about these techniques and watch a few more free videos, check out the course home page. 

Don’t Make Lemonade – The Takeaway

Things have changed, and as much as we may wish for them to return to “normal,” the fact is that we aren’t going back.  We can only go forward.  But whatever the new “normal” becomes, we have a unique opportunity to shape it.  

If any of those “lemons” we’re getting right now results in us having more time on our hands, then let’s make sure we don’t have things backward.  Don’t kill time; invest it.  It will be gone soon enough as it is.

As the good Dr. Seuss reminds us:

How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?
– Dr. Seuss

Don't Make LemonadeIn a way, the miraculous has happened.  Suddenly, perhaps, we’ve been given the impossible gift of more time.

We could make lemonade with it.  But why not build a lemonade stand?

Lead On!





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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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