One of the hardest lessons to teach a child is that life is not always fair. The child looks at you with a bewildered expression on their face as you sympathetically explain that whatever happened to them should not have happened, but it did. It’s almost as if you are the one betraying them with this bitter knowledge.
One of the hardest things to deal with as an adult is that sometimes, no matter how hard you work, no matter how much of yourself you pour into something, the “powers that be” can still choose to disrespect you and violate your trust.
It’s like a punch in the gut.
I know I’m not alone in receiving these gut punches. And, unfortunately, I have had more than one in my career.
When they happen, I can’t just curl up in front of Netflix for a week and pretend the world is scripted and predictable and easy.
I have stuff to do and people who need me at my best. I have to remain productive.
Unfortunately (fortunately?), life has recently given me an opportunity to discover that I have a process I follow when reacting to my professional gut punches.
Because every emotional upheaval needs a good process associated with it, right?
How I deal with a professional gut punch
Step One: Breathe
I am an extravert and can barely have a thought without speaking it aloud. My dog always feigns interest in my verbal musings about what to have for lunch.
However, when I am gut punched, I need time alone with my thoughts. I have a wonderful network of people who love me. But I know that as soon as I start talking to them, their reactions are going to be immediate and strong.
I need time to figure out how I feel about the situation. Because I value the opinions of those close to me, I don’t want my feelings to be colored by their thoughts…at least not at first.
So, I get a little quiet. I take a few days to breathe and think. And cry.
Step Two: Share
As I move out of the breathe phase to the share phase, I start to talk to one or two people per day about my situation. I consider this a data-gathering exercise as well as a way to seek comfort.
With my most recent gut punch, I learned that people in my inner circle may need some “breathe time” of their own. They were upset on my behalf. I found that their thoughts and advice changed from the time of the first “reveal” to subsequent conversations on the topic.
But, as always, this amazing circle of brilliant people helped me wrap my head around what happened to me.
Step Three: Vent
Then the rage comes.
As I start to emotionally move toward my situation, the betrayal sinks in deep. The indignation of my loved ones has validated my feelings.
I give myself permission to be mad…really, really mad.
Trigger warning: The next several images contain swear words and some mild insults directed at politics, excessive beer drinking, camouflage vests, and Scotland.
Ok, so maybe you vent your anger differently than I do. Not everyone can feel primal rage toward ground beef and cans of tomatoes.
Step Four: Figure out what to do next
I avoid logical thought and decision-making until step four.
As tempting as it is to start considering my options during step one, I am not capable of thinking clearly when I am shocked or angry. And, when I push myself to make premature decisions, I usually do something I regret.
My coaching clients are accustomed to hearing me say that, “Option A is to change nothing; stay the course.”
It is not necessarily weak or wrong to do nothing. Sometimes that is the best decision. However, if you decide that Option A is not the way to go, then you weigh the pros and cons of your other options.
So, I gather the information I need to both identify and consider my options. I’m good at this. My Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) score suggests that I am an excellent data gatherer.
I love information. I love gathering information so much that I find actual decision-making to be boring and limiting. But, Option A should be a choice, not a result of analysis paralysis.
Every gut punch will come with a unique list of Options B through whatever. When I get to the decision phase, I go back to step one (breathe) again. I need to consider the opinions of those I trust, but ultimately, the decision is mine. I have to live with it.
As I reflect on my professional gut punches of the past, there is little consistency in how I have handled step four.
Sometimes, I have chosen Option A. One time, I quit my job. Other times, I have experienced depression and anxiety. Once, I “showed them all” with my outrageous success. I’ve severed relationships, triumphed over adversity, and hid my head in the sand like a coward. I’ve done it all.
The one thing that has been consistent in these gut-wrenching situations is that there is usually a window. You know the window, right? The whole thing about when one door closes, there is an open window somewhere…
My daughter is 18 now, and she is more of a confidante than a child to me. Last weekend as we drank coffee together on the couch, I told her about all the slammed doors in my career over the past 15+ years. She no longer has that look of bewilderment on her face about the unfairness of life and business. She gets it.
The good news is that I have always found the window. In each of these situations I described to Maddie, there was a window…eventually.
I don’t see the window in my current situation now, but that does not mean it isn’t there.
But maybe I need to go brown some more ground beef first.
Are you ready to prioritize tasks, address time challenges, and master your information?
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Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at email@example.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.