Some days you’re the windshield, some days you’re the bug.
Life lessons from Dire Straits.
Not too long ago, I was the bug. Smacked down by a big ole windshield. I separated from my job. I was so unhappy I decided I wasn’t going to bounce back, I was gonna stay down and wallow, really roll around in the residue of what happened. But soon, friends and family, even myself, began telling me to get over it. “Move on.” “Shit happens.” “Deal.”
I discovered, though, that bouncing back is not a simple process. It has stages to it, just like other parts of life. And these stages? They are not comfortable. They are not fun. They take time. You’ll want to rush, you’ll judge yourself, you’ll want a quick fix.
Taking the time to consciously inhabit these stages will lead you to a healthier, more whole, more authentically “over it” place than trying to rush, ignore or fix. Besides, “fixing” implies that what you’re feeling or experiencing is wrong. It’s not – it’s actually human, common, and inevitable. (And, ps, everyone goes through these stages.)
How long will it take?
That depends on how able/willing you are to be self-aware and dig in. It took me about nine months to get to Pivoting (and most of that time was spent untangling Self-Recrimination).
What if I need to take action NOW?
These stages don’t have to be addressed in a vacuum. The important thing is to understand that they’re going to happen whether you look at them or not. So when taking action, notice if you’re feeling panicked and crazy, willing to do anything! That’s a sign that emotions are in control and your best thinking isn’t available to you. In that case, talk to someone you trust before taking a job, making an agreement, signing a check.
Et voila, The Five Stages of Getting Over It
Note that “getting over it” really means you’re no longer stuck in it. You may always feel bad or embarrassed or sad about what happened; the important thing is that you move on and leave the episode behind you. You don’t let it define you.
Purpose: Anger is the world’s best defense – when you’re angry, it stops you from focusing on the wave of self-recrimination forming offshore.
What Anger looks like: Lots of intense, unfocused energy shooting out all over the place, a lot of cussing and yelling and banging around.
How to handle Anger: Go for it, give it your all because this stage flames out pretty quickly. Buy a couple of pool noodles and hit your bed like it’s a demon.
Purpose: Blame is similar to Anger in that it’s about deflection, but where Anger is what you feel, Blame is what you do when those first pangs of recrimination start rolling in.
What Blame looks like: Blame is loud and articulate, often taking the form of endless, looping conversations in your head and with others. You want to make what happened and what you’re feeling someone (anyone) else’s fault.
How to handle Blame: The dark heart of blame is revenge – and no one does revenge like Mel Gibson. Watch Mel Gibson movies, Ransom is especially effective. Drive around yelling “GIVE ME BACK MY SON!!!” for a week, it really does help. For awhile. But soon you’ll notice those conversations in your head have taken a turn. They’ve stopped being about them, and started being about you. Get ready, this next stage is a mutha.
Purpose: Perverse self-protection.
What Self-Recrimination looks like: This is the big mess, when the blame focused outward turns inward. When all those feelings you’ve been avoiding drop in on you. In waves. Ceaseless, unrelenting waves of coulda-woulda-shoulda. “If only” becomes an enduring mental state.
Everything is now your fault. You’re in this big mess because:
- Every decision you’ve ever made has been the wrong one
- There is a huge, indefinable yet highly active FLAW in you that prevents you from succeeding
- You don’t deserve…anything, because you aren’t worth…anything
- In brief…you suck
(Getting the feeling that your inner voice is nothing but a mean girl bullying you on social media? It is.)
Self-Recrimination is where most of us get stuck and stay stuck. We just can’t get past how wrong we are. We take the freight for everything. We forget that Self-Recrimination is a temporary emotional state, we forget that it’s not the “truth” about what happened. (The truth is in there somewhere to be sure, but your feelings now are so macro it’s impossible to discern what’s true from everything else.)
How to handle Self-Recrimination: Self-Recrimination is so hard to get through because it’s driven by powerful fuel – shame. From the pangs of embarrassment we feel when thinking about the situation to the waves of humiliation that threaten to wash us away, it’s all shame. And shame is worse than a mean girl, it’s a bully with an agenda: Shame wants to knock you down and keep you down. Because by doing so, it thinks it’s keeping you safe from further hurt.
To get past this stage you need to uncover and own what’s truly yours in the situation, and let go of what’s not. The closed loop of inner monolog is not going to help you out here. What you need is perspective. Which can come from anywhere, even “Feel Good Feeds” on Facebook, like Humans of New York or the kind with motivational memes (pretty pics and reminders that falling down is part of life, greatness comes from many failures – you know the kind). The goal is disrupting the internal loop.
Note that Self-Recrimination and shame can be a gateway to situational depression. If you find that you just can’t move past blaming yourself, talking to someone who is focused solely on you can help. Invoke your inner Woody Allen and find a therapist. Even a few short-term chat sessions with a counselor from your EAP can give you valuable perspective. Don’t mess around with Self-Recrimination. How you handle it will make a huge difference in how you come out of this.
Purpose: Hitting bottom. And healing.
What Sadness looks like: You’ve stopped blaming yourself and everyone else, and can now see the situation for what it is. All the fight has gone out of you and you realize that the core of everything you’ve been feeling, from the beginning, is sadness. It’s sad to be exited from a job. It’s sad to think about what you lost and what may never be found again. It’s sad to consider the work you’d planned to do that now won’t be done or will be done by someone nowhere near as good as you. It’s sad to fail.
How to handle Sadness: Remind yourself that this experience doesn’t define the rest of your life, it’s one event and it’s already in the past. Sadness is not a permanent emotional state – it’s the final clearing. Here’s one of my favorite motivational quotes from this period:
If you know me based on who I was a year ago, you don’t know me at all. My growth game is strong. Allow me to reintroduce myself.
I love this quote because it allows us to look at our situations through the lens of transformation. This helped me a lot because, in addition to sadness, I felt fear. Fear that this was the end, that I wasn’t going to have more ideas or opportunities. This quote helped me understand that this whole experience was an opportunity (to grow and learn and sharpen my sense of self). Once I got that, all the doors I thought were closed opened again.
Your growth game is strong! Believe it.
Purpose: Moving on. Big questions, big opportunities.
What Pivoting looks like: One day, your first thought will be about the future not the past. Taking action will feel easier (not like lifting a 100 lb. weight). You’ll have ideas again. You’ll have stopped talking about what happened and started talking about what’s next. You’ll notice the sunshine.
Falling down or failing is a huge launching pad: What is next? What did you learn? What do you know about yourself now that you didn’t before? Is getting another job the next move? Or is it working for yourself? Do you want to completely shift gears?
Handling Pivoting: This is the actual “getting up” part. Where you start to get ready for the outside world again.
Get your pitch together:
- Make sure you have a tight, self-affirming narrative for what happened – one that’s grounded in your growth story, not your shame story
- Take what you learned from the THEM part of the equation and ask better questions (of employers, partners, people)
- Leverage the YOU part of the equation and deliver more authenticity to your audiences
Don’t go it alone – get advice. Talk to people who are doing what you want to do or people who are living a life you want to live. Get a career coach or a life change coach. Read books, explore, be curious, get excited. This is the good part!
BONUS TIP: Gratitude. It’s what got me through these stages with grace. Every morning and every night, I said out loud what I was grateful for: My dog, my pillows, Trader Joe’s Smashing S’mores, the light in my bedroom, the park at the end of the street. It may seem counterintuitive, but articulating gratitude in the midst of these dark stages shines a very bright light. Try it. One day you’ll even find yourself grateful for what happened.
I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down.
Life lessons from Chumbawamba.