“We have to let you go and today is your last day here”.
That was what greeted me when I walked into work one Thursday morning not so long ago.
I was working as a web developer at an awesome and small (4-person) company in New Hampshire. I was in the midst of building a site for Yale University’s environmental lab and was feeling totally connected to what I was doing and how I was helping the greater good of the planet along with having a really cool job. I loved the workspace we all shared, the ability to bring my dog to work and how everyone slid across the floor from one desk to another in a kind of co-working excitement shuffle whenever we shared ideas or needed additional expertise with technical aspects of the sites we built. It felt like a family and I felt like I got a chance to growinto a bigger, better and smarter version of myself each day I came to work.
“Really, we have to let you go today…”
I remember blinking and thinking this is a pretty stupid joke, but one that I wouldn’t have put past my boss who was known for his occasional bad jokes.
Except this wasn’t a joke. This was real. Their small company was overextended and they had just found out that they couldn’t make payroll for us that week.
Working at a small company has its ups and downs.
Talk about being thrown for a total loop! This had me knocked off my feet and reeling all while I was trying to listen to my boss apologizing and explaining. It had caught them off guard as well and they had been scrambling all week to figure out what had happened. In business terms they’d taken on some big jobs and some clients hadn’t paid in time and they’d invested in trainings for us all and in some travel to professional development conventions.
It all added up…… Except that it didn’t add up. At least not as far as money coming in and going out.
But in those first 20 minutes I wasn’t taking in anything anyone said. In my head were spinning all the things I had messed up, (or thought I did), all the things I thought I could have done faster or better, in essence I went into a tailspin reviewing my own real or imagined inadequacies.
That’s what adversity does, it sends us into a stall while we scramble to find the meaning in what just happened. It’s the nature of adversity to knock us for a loop. Sometimes it’s a little one, sometimes a bigger one, no matter it’s a loop all the same and we can end up stalled and stuck in that moment in time. Like Wile E. Coyote frantically windmilling his legs in the air in the moments before he falls off the cliff.
And then we often play the victim card. We’ve all done it at least once in our lives. It’s human and it’s all because we want a quick answer for what just happened. We think that if there is a reason, then we will know how to fix it. We will know what to do.
Sometimes life forces you to make a choice without a lot of information to act upon. The best thing to do…? Stop, Breathe, Calm before taking action.
“ADVERSITY ONLY GRIPS US HARDER AS WE STRUGGLE TO MAKE MEANING OUT OF WHATEVER JUST HAPPENED. SHIFTING FOCUS IS THE ONLY WAY TO GET OUT OF THE STALL BECAUSE THE LONGER WE STAY THERE, THE TIGHTER THE GRIP OF DOUBT BECOMES.”
Here’s the truth… The reason isn’t important. It’s what we do next that really matters.
Adversity only grips us harder as we struggle to make meaning out of whatever just happened. Shifting focus is the only way to get out of the stall because the longer we stay there, the tighter the grip of doubt becomes.
The Good News…
It’s actually pretty simple to get unstuck. Notice I didn’t say it’d be easy, it’s hard work but not complicated.
6 Steps to Get Unstuck
- Don’t try to place blame.
Let go of that voice saying “It’s not my fault”, or asking “Why did this happen”?
- Take 5 deep breaths.
Breathing deeply activates your Parasympathetic Nervous System and slows your heart rate down to where you can think more clearly and feel more relaxed.
- Do a reality check.
Take stock of what is actually around you. Keep it to “the facts and just the facts”.
- Write a list of the top 3 things you need to deal with most immediately.
Be practical and note that yelling at someone (including at yourself) does not belong on this list.
- Take an Action-step.
Make this a small step and make sure it is something physical, Something as simple as getting coffee, walking around the block, hit the gym, or walk your dog.
- Make a list.
Make a list of the first 5 things you need to deal with. Keep it simple and direct. It may include things like telling your partner, or talking to HR, or dealing with police or insurance agents.
The key is to take simple, action-steps from a place of calm awareness. When we stop our spinning minds long enough to relax and breath, we create a space to make positive and action-based choices. The beauty of this approach is that when in relaxing and taking action, we create options and more growth possibilities for ourselves. We put ourselves back in control.
My dog is always a great reminder that we are ultimately always in control of something for ourselves.