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 Helping Managers and Salespeople Thrive in Turbulent Times Vol. 1, #9, November 2003 
in this issue
  • When Bad Things Happen
  • About Jim Schaffer & Associates

  • Greetings!

    This month we discuss how to stay calm when your whole world comes tumbling down.

    Just click "reply" to send along your comments at any time.

    Best regards,

    Jim Schaffer
    President, Jim Schaffer & Associates

    When Bad Things Happen

    We've spent a lot of time this year discussing how to maintain peace of mind and find inspiration in a general business climate that nurtures neither.

    But what about when something really bad happens? When you're knocked flat by a situation or an event and feel like you either want to hide under your desk or pick up your computer and hurl it through a plate glass window. What do you do then?

    These types of situations generally fall into two categories. The first is external: a large customer cancels or becomes unhappy, or a sizable deal falls through. You face loss of income, of course, but — worse — you will be blamed for this no matter what the circumstances are. The lower paycheck is overshadowed by fear of job loss or reduced status within the organization.

    The second type is internal: you get unexpected negative feedback from your manager. Or you suddenly get a new manager who shows no desire to have a relationship with you. Perhaps you are the manager and an event outside your control occurs for which you will nonetheless be blamed. Or you get caught on the short end of a re-org.

    Any of these sound familiar?

    The best way I've found to deal with these catastrophic events is contained in the very foundation of the Buddha's philosophy, the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth states that life by its very nature means that suffering will occur. We tend to beat ourselves up a lot for getting caught in these occasional binds, but we could suffer a lot less if we just accept that the very definition of work contains these moments. To expect otherwise is to expect something other than reality, like expecting an alcoholic not to drink or kids to clean up their rooms 100% of the time.

    The Second Noble Truth describes this secondary, avoidable suffering as attachment to things and situations which are highly impermanent, like work being stable or our position within the organization as one that is going quite well.

    When something bad happens, the mind and body's natural tendency is to close down, to cling, to strive for control. Yet the way to avoid unnecessary suffering is exactly the opposite — to let go. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Wherever You Go There You Are:

    "Letting go means just what it says. It's an invitation to cease clinging to anything — whether it be an idea, a thing, an event, a particular time, or view, or desire. It is a conscious decision to release with full acceptance into the stream of present moments as they are unfolding."

    Though it's healthy to note and acknowledge what has happened (ah, major lost client, I can understand that) it is unhealthy to go through all the secondary suffering that is clinging to pleasure or avoiding pain (but I was having such a good year! -or- I may be in deep sneakers over this one!) Neither is what this moment contains, and you may as well train yourself to let go of such thoughts and emotions. If you really do receive signals that your job may be in jeopardy over the event, you can use those present moments to act accordingly.

    Here are immediate steps you can take when a tsunami rolls over you.

    1. Breathe. Deeply and for twenty minutes or so, if possible. While you are breathing, note the absolute flood of thoughts and emotions preventing your mind from being quiet. See them for the insubstantial phenomena they are. Watch them dance off into the distance. Gently bring yourself back to the present moment.
    2. Stop weaving stories, injecting meaning. You must understand in a deep spiritual sense that you really have no idea what's going on right now and what the long-term ramifications are for you so — widen the lens. Our reflex is to interpret these moments, but it's possible to develop a new reflex, to learn to let go.
    3. Know that "This Too Shall Pass". No matter how terrible things seem, even this will change. Maybe not on your exact timetable, but it will.

    One memorable day ten years ago my then boss informed me that the magazine I was working for was downsizing, and I would be laid off seven weeks hence. There was another salesperson on the East Coast and they had decided, with some difficulty, to keep him and get rid of me.

    Needless to say, I was devastated. We had just had a second child and purchased our home. How could this be happening to me!?

    Four weeks into the seven the other guy suddenly quit, I was asked to stay, and I went on to have three of the best years of my career. My boss had a falling- out with the CEO and ended up leaving the company within three months. We both behaved maturely and with compassion during that uncomfortable situation, and ten years later we remain friendly and enjoy running into one another. Both of us went on from that magazine to prosper in other jobs, and of course we've each had our ups and downs during the past decade.

    So — my question is — what really happened that day??

    Longtime readers of this newsletter and those of you who have taken my workshops know that I don't believe in the concept of "there" as a destination. We are already "here," moment by moment by moment.

    Nonetheless, in really trying times, I turn for soothing wisdom to the great philosopher and Disc Jockey of my youth, Toby Young of Harrisburg, PA, who used to say at the close of every show:

    If you're going there,
    And you ain't got the fare,
    Just put one foot out in front of the other,
    and keep on walkin', mama.
    You'll get there.

    Just don't get too attached to anything you encounter along the way!

    For more on the Four Noble Truths click here

    About Jim Schaffer & Associates

    Jim Schaffer & Associates helps management teams & salespeople stay focused, get results and keep high morale — regardless of what may be going on around them.

    Copyright 2003 by Jim Schaffer & Associates.

    To subscribe to this newsletter, simply send an email with your request to: jim@jimschaffer.com.


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         voice: 617-332-9105
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