When Times Are Tough

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for yours truly. I’ve faced a 3-D crisis: Death, Disease and Disappointment. A longtime friend died; a woman dear to me is ill; one of my readers has been given a scary diagnosis; and, someone didn’t do what he said he had done. All in all, a challenging time.

How do we get through crisis? How do we function when times are tough? How can we make the best of a bad situation?

Here are some tactics you can use when you face tough times:

First, don’t hurry through difficulties. I know, I know. Sounds counter-intuitive, huh? But finding a solution to a set of difficult problems may take time — and if you rush, you can find yourself applying the wrong solutions, which can completely compound the problem.

Second, accept the gifts difficulty has to offer. Another counter-intuitive thought? Not really. It’s only by fully experiencing the lows that we can fully experience the highs. I believe it’s impossible to live in bliss. Bliss is something that can be touched and savored in the moment — but it’s incredibly hard to sustain. Fully feeling sadness, hurt, vulnerability, disappointment and fear allows us to understand and learn. And to remember we’re only human.

Third, make sure you are surrounded by a team of people ready to help and support you. In my case, my team “floats” depending on what I need. Sometimes my team includes a lawyer (or two), an accountant, a teacher, a consultant or another coach. Sometimes my team consists of three wise women and two bottles of wine. The latter is infinitely more fun than the former, with no offense meant to lawyers and accountants who can be fun in their own special ways. In my “Thinking About Starting Your Own Business” and “Writing Your Own Personal Strategic Plan” workshops, I ask participants to inventory the folks they’ll need on their team to meet their objectives. It’s a good idea to identify your “crisis team” when times are good — so when times get tough, you know who to call. And, if you don’t know who to call, rely on friends, family and colleagues to give you good referrals.

Fourth, if your crisis takes you by complete surprise and you have that deer-in-the-headlights feeling — do this: think of someone you know who’s experienced your crisis before and pretend you’re her. “Carol would ask these questions,” you can tell yourself. Then proceed to ask all of Carol’s questions, which may prompt a few of your own. Our friends the mental health professionals call this “modeling” but you can also call it “surviving” — just until you have the information and strength to get going again.

Finally, remind yourself that you are a resilient person. You haven’t gotten this far without weathering a few storms, right? Reflect on other tough times you have faced– you made it through, didn’t you? You learned something. You made deeper connections with others. You grew stronger.

When times are tough, we are being challenged to our very core to dig deep and be the best people we can be in that moment. The good news is that tough times don’t last forever. And when they pass, our hearts are open to grateful living — and anticipation of the inevitable good times to come.

Accepting Gifts

It’s all in how you receive.

Let’s say someone gives you a bouquet of flowers. You have a choice about how you will receive them. You could say, “Flowers, huh? What’s HE been up to?” Or, you could say, “Carnations? He only sprung for carnations? Cheapskate.” You might say, “He knows I hate Peruvian lilies — what’s he trying to tell me?” Or, you could merely accept the bouquet and say, “Thank you.”

It’s all in how you decide to receive a gift.

And that’s true whether you’re receiving a tangible gift, like we do here at Christmastime, or accepting your own inherent gifts. I am often amazed at the number of clients who can wax rhapsodic about their weaknesses and shortcomings, but when I task them with inventorying their strengths, they freeze up.

Perhaps we’ve been socialized away from “tooting our own horn” to the degree that we forget we’ve actually got a horn anyway. It does feel awkward to say, “You know, I am really good at (fill in the blank).” Try it. “I am really good at (insert your strength here).” Was that easy or hard? Did you struggle to find something to fill in the blank?

Performance reviews often focus on that which needs improvement (your weaknesses) without so much as a nod to what you’re consistently doing really well. Focusing on the negative puts people in a defensive, one-down position. What a shift it would be if corporations acknowledged employee strengths and let folks play to them!

So, how do you identify your strengths? Glad you asked.

1) What tasks are you often asked to do in your workplace, home or volunteer activities? Organize the Christmas party? Entertain clients? Write a business plan? Train the new guy? Serve on a committee?

2) What are you doing when you lose track of time? Reading actuarial tables? Talking with clients? Walking outside? Writing? Preparing meals? Thinking? Working on a project with others? Being physical?

3) What things have you consistently gravitated to throughout your career? Building teams? Starting businesses? Problem-solving? Big-picture thinking? Coordinating details? Serving others?

Answering these questions may lead you, for example, to understand that you are highly socially intelligent — great at reading other people and excellent at client service — yet you spend a great deal of time completing paperwork. That may lead you to determine you need an assistant to do the paperwork, freeing you up to spend more time with your clients, and increasing your sales revenue.

One of the keys to happiness and satisfaction is knowing what you’re good at and doing as much of it as possible. I often tell clients, “Do more of what you like and delegate the rest!”

When I work with clients to inventory their strengths, we’ll identify one and they will often say, “Well, of course, but anyone can do that!” Really? Everyone can plan and execute a Presidential event for 40,000 people in a week? Everyone can prepare corporate tax returns? Everyone can make a nutritious, tasty meal in 23 minutes? Everyone can manage a group of people to a positive end result? Everyone can raise a million dollars?

I don’t think so.

We tend to minimize that which comes easy to us and focus on that which comes with difficulty. We’ve heard this so many times: “If it’s worth anything, you’ve got to struggle for it.” My perspective is: “If you have to struggle for it, you may be trying to do the wrong thing.”

Accepting and working with your particular gifts shifts your way of thinking from “There’s plenty I’m not good at” to “Look at what I can do!” Which attitude, do you think, leads to greater happiness and satisfaction?