What to Do When Bad Things Happen

After having made it around the block a few times, some folks start to feel that they have gained a little wisdom along the way and would like to share what they have learned with others. I’m feeling that way now. However, having been young once myself, I fully understand that it is often tedious to indulge some “old foggy” as he or she drones on what he/she believes is wisdom. So if you want to opt out and quit reading now, I totally understand.

The “wisdom” I would like to impart today can be summarized as follows: “When bad things happen to you in our life, the most important thing is how you recover”.   It is inevitable; occasionally, sometimes more than occasionally, bad things happen to us all. They can range from minor irritants to major catastrophes and everything in between. Sometimes other people are responsible. Sometimes we ourselves are responsible. And sometimes no one is responsible. However, regardless of how serious the incident or how it was caused, we ultimately only have two choices – we can let it effect us negatively from anywhere from a few minutes to a life time, or we can turn our thoughts immediately how to recover, how to minimize any bad effects, how to press on and perhaps even turn the situation to our advantage.

How we best recover will depend on the situation. Let’s say that early one morning you have an appointment with an important client or your boss so you leave for work early to be sure that traffic congestion will not be a problem. On the way your car runs over board dropped out of the bed of the pickup truck in front of you. You hope for the best, but yep, there was nail sticking out of that board and you now have a flat tire. There is no way you are going to make that appointment now. You have a choice. You can fly into a rage about how you would like throttle the driver of that pickup or how unfair life is and in the process let yourself get all upset or you can begin the recovery process immediately. In this case the recovery process is very straight forward. You call your client or boss, explain the situation, arrange for an alternate appointment and then get the tire fixed. The quicker you move into recovery mode, the better you will feel about yourself and the better the rest of your day will be.

You can sometimes even turn the bad situation to your advantage. When I was much younger my first job after leaving the Air Force was supervising a group of technicians. My Manager wasn’t big on paperwork, but he put great deal of emphasis on his supervisors being out in the field supporting their technicians in any way possible. Being determined to succeed and impress if at all possible, that was where I put my emphasis as well. Taking care of my administrative tasks was relegated to a much lower priority. My Manager appeared to be very pleased with my work and I was proud of myself until he went out on leave for about six weeks with a medical problem.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my Manager’s temporary replacement had a different point of emphasis, one that he never mentioned to me or my fellow supervisors. Three weeks after the new guy took over, my District Manager (my Manager’s boss) called me into his office. He told me my administrative work was poor and must be improved. (I had evidently been ratted out by my Manager’s replacement.) I tried to explain, but the big boss wasn’t buying it. He told me that the administrative work was an important part of the job, especially for guys like me who expected to be promoted one day.

I was crushed One day I was working my tail off doing what I had been led to believe would make me successful. The next, in my first real encounter with my boss’ boss, I was being told my work was sub par. It wasn’t fair, and the turkey that had a problem with me didn’t even have the guts to tell me himself. Instead he ensured that my first real encounter my District Manager left a bad impression. I could have continued to feel sorry for myself, but that evening made a decision out of a sense of self preservation. I promised myself that I would make the extra effort to handle the darn paperwork, and I would handle it better than anyone else. I kept that promise to myself and later it was my administrative skills which distinguished me from my fellow supervisors and helped me rise above the crowd to get that promotion I sought. My District Manager helped secure that promotion. The incident which I thought was a disaster at the time ultimately had a positive effect; or rather my recovery had a positive effect.

I don’t pretend that this advice is easy to put into practice. We all have different mental make ups. A relatively minor incident like getting cut off in traffic by another driver may be of little concern to one person, but may cause steam to come out of the ears of another. Some of us just naturally have a lower boiling point than others. However, regardless of our initial reaction to a particular unpleasant incident, or how difficult it is to control our follow-on thought process, it is obviously never good to allow ourselves to be negatively affected by over a relatively long period of time. When bad things happen to us it is always better to focus immediately on how recover. Having that focus on recovery will often help us avoid subsequent unpleasant incidents.

It is said bad things come in bunches. It has been my personal experience that this is often true because we make the mistake of dwelling on the first negative incident. Our subsequent lack of concentration makes it more likely that something else will go wrong and that is usually something we could have avoided. A second bad incident might lead to another, and then another and suddenly we can feel like the world is caving in on us. Positive concentration on recovery after the first incident is the best way to avoid this domino effect.

Of course there are those situations which can occur in our lives which qualify as absolute disasters – the death of love one, the loss of a home and all of one’s personal possessions to a storm or fire, or perhaps for some people the loss of a long held job are some examples. Of course, recovery in such situations is never easy and in some cases various stages of grieving are part of the recovery process. But one thing is clear; the sooner we can move into recovery mode and start rebuilding our lives, the better it will be for our emotional health and mental well being.

So we can all do ourselves a favor. When something goes wrong, instead of concentrating on how bad things are, if we instead focus on how to best recover and return the situation to normal, we will all live happier more fulfilling lives.

Cajun    8/18/14

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