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A Timely Reminder for Overcoming Difficult Seasons in Your Life
As most of you probably know by now, part of my life experience is both chronic migraines and spasmodic torticollis (also known as cervical dystonia). Earlier this month, while dealing with yet another migraine, I arrived at my neurologist’s office for Botox injections into my neck and scalp to manage symptoms of the two aforementioned conditions. The idea of having injections into the very areas that were currently spasming and aching was less than desirable.
However, to make matters worse, someone had pulled the fire alarm in the hospital for no apparent reason. So, the alarm rang out in short, loud blasts every three seconds and strobe lights flashed in every room. My anxiety about the painful impending shots was escalated by the sights and sounds of the chaotic environment, and my migraine pain screamed to new heights.
During the 15 minutes that I endured that fire alarm, a recent comment made by a coachee continually floated through my mind. Responding to my question about how life was going, she said “It’s all quite unpleasant.” Penelope was referring to the fact that, on that day, both her personal life and professional life were unsettled, challenging, and, well, unpleasant. Her comment became a mantra, a somewhat soothing focal point, repeating in my mind to the rhythm of the fire alarm blasts.
I let my mind relive that conversation with Penelope. Her concerns about the quality of her life were desperately sincere. And, her discontent was relatable, especially for me in that moment. However, my painful hospital situation had a clear end in sight. I would get my shots and leave, and the migraine would eventually go away. However, there are difficult seasons of our lives in which we can’t see the end. What are we to do during those times when we can’t simply wait it out or muscle through?
Like Penelope, most of us can usually recognize the issues creating unhappiness, stress, and worry in our lives. During a difficult season when it seems so much is going wrong, however, many of us fail to realize that the biggest barrier to forward progress is our anxiety about whether, when, or how any of the difficult situations we are facing may resolve.
When an inventory of our lives can be summarized with “it’s all quite unpleasant,” we can feel overwhelmed, powerless, and even hopeless. Yet, there is a secret to managing ourselves at those times in life: identify the fear.
Fear usually lives at the center of anxiety. Fear whispers to us that we may never find solutions to the issues we face, that our future will be as bleak as the present moment, and on and on. Fear reminds us of all our failures in the past and tells us we are in for more of the same. Fear also encourages us to borrow problems from the future, to anticipate more problems and bad outcomes.
Unaddressed, fear festers within us, holding us hostage with worry and distress because it blots out problem solving ideas. But, when we acknowledge our very real fear-based feelings for what they are, feelings, we can choose to experience more than one set of feelings at a time. We can be fearful AND empowered to contemplate small steps we can take to help regain a sense of control. Of course, there are times when we may not have the emotional fortitude to identify small, positive steps that are available to us. During those times, it is often most effective to work with a trusted coach (which could be a leader, executive coach, wise friend, clergy person, or therapist). Sometimes it helps to borrow the objectivity, problem solving skills, and support of others to help get us started.
Together, Penelope and I talked through each personal and professional issue. We acknowledged her fears about each situation AND THEN generated ideas together. Ultimately, we outlined steps she could take to address each of the situations she was facing. In some cases, we readily identified that there were things she could do to better a situation. In other cases, there were no helpful action steps she could take. So, instead, we processed her thoughts and feelings about those situations, and we developed a plan for Penelope to clarify her needs with others where appropriate.
By the end of that coaching session, Penelope seemed lighter and more “centered.” She was no longer stuck, and she began moving with intention and greater clarity through a difficult season in her life.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that everyone is dealing with something, and anyone could be struggling with extraordinary unpleasantness any given day. Take an active interest in the well-being of those around you, especially if you are in a leadership position. If you can’t be the one to help someone process their issues, then be the one to remind them to find a person or resource with whom to do that.