When Things Go South

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, in fact, even if you’re just the kind of person who reads this blog for a while, you probably have most things in your work and your life fairly well under control.

Good for you!

I do, too.

But as you know, every once in a while things go south.

This is because the world is a big place, and we simply can’t control everything. In fact, all we really can control is ourselves (and we can’t even do that all the time). But that’s a topic for a different time.

Right now, I’d like to focus on the situations where we’re not in control and we don’t like it. Maybe we’re waiting for something to happen or someone to make a decision. Maybe events have turned sour and we’re powerless to turn them back around. Maybe we’re just working our way through a difficult or unproductive period.

When this happens, we feel very bad. And if we don’t react in the right ways, there’s a chance the situation will go from bad to worse.

That’s why I try to stay alert for these moments, and when I see things going south I act very quickly and carefully to minimize the damage and the danger, and to maximize my opportunities to prepare for better times ahead.

Like this:

Stay Big

When times are tough, it’s easy to get little. By this I mean it’s easy to become petty, to focus on small things, to take whatever pleasure we can in successes that really don’t matter. It’s also easy and comfortable to revert to childish responses: to curl up with a favorite toy or blanket, for example, or to focus on the unpleasant nature of your current circumstances.

The better course of action, however, is to stay big. By this I mean to focus on the bigger picture of your life, your major accomplishments, the larger perspectives of your current circumstances. Yes, things have gone south, but not all the way south: you’re still very far north of where you once were, or where you could be now if your past accomplishments had not been as large and productive as they were.

I also mean you should avoid petty thoughts and actions. It might feel better for the moment to hurl an insult or a refusal, or to do something to make someone else feel as bad as you do at the moment. But in the long run, you’ll get more out of staying big, doing the right thing, remaining magnanimous, and avoiding taking out your anger or frustration or disappointment on anyone else.

Fairly soon, things will turn around for the better, and all those little feelings and actions will be in your rearview mirror. If you stay big, they will be nothing more than regrettable past impulses on which you did not act.

Good for you.

Keep At It

One of those little impulses you may be feeling is to hunker down and wait for the bad times to pass. That’s an OK strategy, along the lines of “when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” There’s undeniable value in that.

But an even better strategy is not to hold still, but to keep working at whatever you can to make things better in the future. Don’t just stop digging; start building a ladder.

  • If it’s a project, keep working at it.
  • If it’s a learning experience, keep studying.
  • If it’s a growth opportunity, keep trying.
  • If it’s a relationship, keep nurturing it.
  • If it’s a battle, keep fighting.

Whatever is going on in your life, a situation where things go south is a good state of affairs in which to keep expending energy in directions you know will be fruitful over the long haul. These efforts might not pay off today, or tomorrow, but they will pay off soon, and then you’ll be glad you kept at them.

Good for you.

Build Bridges

Situations where things go south provide great opportunities to avoid isolation and build – or strengthen – your bridges to other people. They present conditions that are going to develop further, so you can justifiably focus elsewhere for the moment.

You can build bridges in many ways, such as:

  • Spending more time with people you like, people who nurture you, people who can teach you something, people who care about you.
  • Seeking out and developing new contacts with more people like those above.
  • Asking for ideas, information, and help wherever you need it. When others offer any of this, accept it gratefully.
  • Building a bridge to yourself. This is called “self-care:” the process of treating yourself as supportively as you’d treat someone else who’s going through what you’re going through at the moment.

When you’re in the midst of productive and successful situations, there’s a chance you may neglect some of your relationships and miss opportunities to build new ones. That’s not a good practice, but it’s all too commonplace.

Now, with things going south, you can fruitfully divert time and energy toward nurturing and developing important relationships. 

Good for you.

I wish I could tell you how to entirely avoid situations where things go south. They’re unfortunately inevitable, although most of my productivity and success-oriented suggestions will help you minimize the number of times you suffer in this way.  

When you need them, the three suggestions in this piece will help you weather these storms and get back to clear sailing with minimum loss of forward momentum or damage.

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