When Your Work or Life Falls Apart

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I’m sorry to report – in case you haven’t already noticed – that parts of your work or your life that you thought were solid and safe can totally fall apart, sometimes without very much warning. This may never happen to you. If it does, it may not last very long. But it’s an eventuality that’s in the cards for too many people, too often.

One very normal reaction to this turn of events is to give up, to cry “Why me?”, and to go hide under the covers for a while, or maybe forever.

But there’s a better response, one that’s geared to keep you moving forward and to get through this bad patch of work or life in relatively short order.

Here are the nuts and bolts of what to do when life hands you lemons:

Go Back to Basics

In normal times, we take many things for granted and we very often take chances and try to stretch our capabilities to accomplish tasks, projects, and goals we’ve never done before. Those are all very bad ideas when things start to go wrong.

Instead, you’ll do better to – at least temporarily – adopt a safer strategy:

  • Take nothing for granted: Verify every fact. Test every component. Double-check your calculations. Look hard for potential problems before they can occur, and take steps to eliminate or ameliorate their consequences before they can impact you.
  • Simplify: Reduce the number of tasks, projects, and goals you’re striving to accomplish. Focus on one essential thing at a time. As much as possible, look to replace complicated choices and solutions with simpler ones.
  • Slow down: Whatever your normal pace for thinking, feeling, choosing, and acting, cut it in half. Taking more time for every action and reaction will allow you to be more deliberate, to avoid more errors, and to perform closer to your most precise level.
  • Take fewer risks, or none at all: When the forces of nature are working against you, it’s smart to reduce your dependence on a fair deal, good luck, or the usual odds.

These four approaches bring you the triple advantages of reducing the number of opportunities for things to go wrong, increasing the percentage of things that turn out well, and producing some immediate victories or successes that can help you regain a more positive outlook on what’s to come.

Don’t Hide

The natural tendency when things start to go wrong in your work or your life is to cut back your involvement, your initiative, and your readiness to engage. That’s precisely the wrong way to behave.

The deeper you go to hide, the larger the obstacles that will remain in position to hinder you from generating better opportunities and outcomes.

I don’t intend my “go back to basics” advice as a total ban on action. Instead, it’s an admonition to throttle back on your normal actions so you can perform better on the things you continue to do, including your basic obligations and your most preferred activities.

In line with this idea, recognize that doing fewer things allows you to make better choices. You can work only on tasks, projects, and goals with the best outlooks for success, take only the risks with the smallest downsides and the largest potential for gain, and show up only at events and activities that will bring you the greatest satisfaction.

Look to Connect with Others

A great way to make your own work and life better is to take steps to improve the work and life of others. But while your world is falling apart, don’t offer others your ideas and suggestions. Instead, place yourself under their direction. For example, ask to help them with simple tasks they may not have time for, or take on supportive tasks that will allow them to do their best at more important responsibilities and opportunities.

It’s also helpful to appreciate and enjoy other people’s successes and happy moments. You’ll immediately feel better, and entering into their positive experiences may let some of their good fortune rub off on you.  

When you follow this route through times when any part of your world seems to be falling apart, you greatly increase the chances that your work and your life will begin to take a turn for the better.  

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