Here’s my Sunday night routine—enjoy a home-cooked family dinner…finish up any work brought home for the weekend…write my blog…review priorities for the coming week…create my priority list for the coming day and week, thinking about both big-picture items and the urgent “tasks” that must be completed.
And that’s how I started last Monday morning. My slate was clean. I was all caught up. I had two major projects for the day…and was excited about the progress…and then I got to the office.
Waiting for me were several time-intensive requests that were more urgent than the things I had planned to do…and then an employee came to my office to tell me that she was leaving Bottom Line to take a position in an industry that was more aligned with her long-term career goals. She gave us the standard two weeks’ notice.
Kaboom! Good-bye project list. Hello emergency rejuggling.
And so it was almost funny when we had not one but two fire alarms within 15 minutes of each other that afternoon. Another hour of productivity lost!
Ever had that kind of day? Or course, you have. So has everyone.
As with everything in life, it’s not what happens—it’s how you respond to what happens. If you’re like most people, your first reaction is to go negative…
Blame: How could “they” do this to me? They are never [fill in the blank…reliable, on time, trustworthy…].
Resentment: I had a plan, and now it’s messed up.
Anger: Expletives tend to come out during this reaction. Of course, “they” don’t care about your expletives.
Paralysis: Now what should I do?
Dejected: Things never work out for me.
Thinking this way may feel good for a moment as you release your frustrations and fears. But long term, it is merely self-destructive physically and emotionally, especially if you internalize those frustrations and they become an ongoing narrative in your head.
The Greek philsopher Heraclitus stated that the very nature of life is flux. Assuming that things will always go as planned is an idealized vision of the world. The rise of social media and the presentation of everyone else’s “perfect life” makes it even more frustrating and humiliating when things don’t work out as planned, and you feel like the biggest loser. But while Heraclitus had a very dark view of the world when he made his declaration, he was entirely accurate…the only constant is change. No humiliation required.
Whether the curveball thrown is big (your company is being sold) or small (your flight is delayed)…or even if it is a happy curveball like a surprise visit from a long-lost friend…or a new business opportunity—it is how we deal with the change that is critical.
How to deal with it?
Breathe: Always critical. Take a moment to gather all of those knee-jerk emotions—the anger, blame and victimization—and put yourself in a clear-headed and clear-hearted place so that you can figure out your path ahead.
Assess: How bad is this change…really? Generally it’s not an insurmountable problem. Inconvenient…yes. But when the trains in New York City stopped running last week because of a “trespasser strike” (euphemism for some poor person who just stepped in front of a moving train), the inconvenience to those commuters was nothing compared with what that individual and his family experienced that night.
And even after my Monday was blown up, all tasks were handled, and we created a plan for covering the departing team member.
While you are assessing, determine if something requires urgent action or attention…or if it is just part of altering the longer-term pathway. If your check engine light comes on as you’re leaving the house in the morning, does it require an emergency stop at the mechanic…or is there time to schedule an appointment? And is it just a repair…or is it now time to replace the car? This is a small example of the complexity of the decision trees that we all go through constantly.
Communicate: Who do you need to notify of a change? Who do you need to gather in order to come up with an alternate plan of action? As always, communication is critical.
Review the original plan: A curveball can provide a great opportunity to reassess your original priorities and determine what is truly important. In the most extreme case, a sudden illness or even death puts all of life into perspective in such a way that—no matter how important or urgent something seems—it is not as important as someone’s health. You clear the decks and the world adapts. Does it really matter if the dinner you planned to cook suddenly has to change because there was an hours-long midday power outage? Or if the project you’re working on is finished tomorrow instead of today? Very few things are “the house is burning down” urgent that they can’t be shifted. And if you are truly honest with yourself, even many things that you deem important (as in have a huge impact on your life and happiness) aren’t necessarily vital.
Move along: This probably is the most critical part of the process. Once the decision is made and the plan of action is in place, move forward and don’t look back. Let go of all of those negative feelings and frustrations. No replaying the dialogue. No spinning about how that person “always…” or “never…” Or how unfair life is. You’ve faced a challenge…adapted your plans…moved forward. There is nothing to be gained from looking backward.
Reframe: Once the dust has settled, ask yourself if you need to change perspective on your expectations? Are they realistic? Are you setting unrealistic expectations for your own growth path or projects? And are you wishing, hoping and praying that things you have no control over were different? We control what we can, but we also need to accept that there is much we simply can’t control. Stop expecting it to be otherwise. It’s Thanksgiving today. There’s a very good chance that someone will arrive late. The turkey will be dry or the gravy will be lumpy. Before my wedding, I told myself that something would most likely go wrong that day—a dress would tear…the meals might not be exactly as I expected…or, as what really did happen, the groomsman forgot to pull out the runner for the ceremony. We want life to be perfect and orderly. Often it is…but always it’s not. What do you want to do about it?