Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Serenity Tip: Serenity during personal crises

This is always a hard one: A loved one is sick, is in the hospital, and your mind is definitely not on the work in front of you.

How do you stay centered then? Impossible, right?

Well, it's not easy, I'll say that. A few years ago when my father was in the hospital, I didn't deal with it very well. I threw myself into work and barely acknowledged the pain I and the rest of my family was feeling. I was incredibly prolific, and I think I expected that accomplishment to blot out my fear, sadness and worry--to give me the serenity that I didn't have already.

Of course it didn't. All it did was make me feel guilty for not being there with my family.

I do think it's possible, however, to find a middle ground, but we have to look hard for it. This is not a culture that encourages moderation, and so I looked at it as extremes: Either I spend all my time with my family and fall into a deep depression (that was my fear, but yours may vary) or I completely ignore all my feelings and become super concentrated on work through the use of various numbing agents. My favorite at the time were coffee, Diet Coke, massive quantities of chocolate bars and giant slices of pizza the size of my head.

Today, I deal with personal crises a little different. Here's what I try to remember:

Welcome to my bad day

There's no getting around it (except through the use of the aforementioned drugs of choice). You're gonna have a bad day. Maybe lots of them. Maybe you'll start your day crying and end it the same way. Maybe you'll be embarrassed and ashamed and worried that work is suffering because you don't feel okay.

But worrying about it is not the same thing as that being true. What is true is that you don't have the same energy you did before for work. That's okay. Being aware of your limits is far better for you and your clients than denying them.

Lean in to your support system

I don't just mean family. At a time like this, you need people to lean on who have no emotional investment in the current crisis. You need friends and loved ones who can give you five minutes of love and support. And for your business's sake, you need to call in your work support system. Ask them:

* How do they cope with crises on work time?
* How much should you tell your clients and how did you phrase it?
* How long did it take before you got back to full speed?
* Did you feel ashamed, guilty and scared that you're business would never recover if you weren't at full capacity at all times?

That last question is perhaps the hardest to ask, but as therapist William Horstman told me for a story on how people shut down when they're under stress, most of our first instincts are to isolate. But the best thing we can do is invite other trusted business people into our world and ask for help.

(Caveat: the key word here is "trusted." This is not a conversation for just any coworker. It needs to be someone who's not competitive, not a gossip and who knows you pretty well.)


A good friend often tells me when I'm under stress, "You should meditate every day, except when you're stressed. Then, you should meditate twice a day."

Don't meditate regularly? Well, then starting now will be an extra treat. You won't believe how much better you'll feel.

And you don't have to do it alone. There are plenty of CDs on meditation and if you bring your laptop to the hospital, you can even do a short guided meditation distributed by some Web sites.

If you can just sit for five minutes and breath, you'll recover faster from your family crisis and be more centered.

ANd finally, remember to have faith. If you work hard at your business, you've created a network of clients who know your value. Think and write about how to approach them and then keep them updated as you ease back into work. They're people, after all. They want to help and are looking forward to you being back at full speed because I'm sure you can help them.

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