The internet is crawling with articles about how to overcome obstacles and persevere through professional adversity. They give upbeat, chirpy advice about setting goals, maintaining a positive attitude, and seeing failures as opportunities. All of this is good advice, but every time I read these articles I can’t escape that thought that they don’t acknowledge one central fact: persevering is grindingly hard work.
They make it sound like you set a few goals and then work out a plan to meet them. Look at you, you’re persevering! Or maybe you have a few bad work habits; you just need to change those and bam! now you’re on the right course again. Or attitude readjustment. That’s the simplest of all, right? Adjusting my attitude doesn’t require any money or time. Just a little thinking and I have a whole new attitude.
What these articles don’t take into account is that none of these things are a one-time fix—any more than your obstacles are one-time obstacles. They make it sound easy. Just set your goals, break your bad habits, or adjust your attitude and everything else will fall into place. But we all know…the reality is a lot more complicated than that.
I’ve tried taking these steps. You’ve tried them. They help, but they’re not enough. What do you do then? What do you do when you’ve taken all the right steps to overcome obstacles and it’s still hard?
We all know that life sends things flying at you—and not just in your professional life. You might have a client proposal due on the same day that you’re dealing with a sick parent and a child with a discipline issue. Or you’re moving to a different state, your spouse is out of the country, and there’s a work emergency that only you can handle. While it’s nice to think that we should keep our work and home lives separate, in the real world it is seldom possible. Life gives you challenges—and you rarely know what those challenges will be.
So how do you cope with that? And how do you cope with it when you get the challenges on a conveyor belt day after day, month after month, year after year?
When the going gets tough, the tough get drunk. Just kidding. Sort of. It’s okay to admit that things are hard. You’re not a superhero. You can take a moment to bemoan the fact that things seem to be collapsing around you—or piling on top of you. Maybe you should open a bottle of wine. Some people put on a movie and eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Some people go for a run (I suspect those people look a lot more fit than I do). Some call a friend or their mother or their therapist. On television women who are stressed often take bubble baths, but I don’t know how frequently this happens in real life. The important thing is that you give yourself permission to acknowledge things are hard—and confess that you’re feeling vulnerable. Denying that sense of being overwhelmed isn’t going to make it go away. It only makes the crisis harder to deal with.
Admit that you don’t have a Facebook life. It’s so easy to browse through other people’s social media and assume they have it all figured out—while you’re the sole person in the world who is barely making it through each day. You’re not. The world is populated by people who feel like their biggest achievements at the end of the day are that their children are alive and they’re still gainfully employed. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re one of them.
You don’t have to be perfect or great at everything you do. I’ll tell you a secret: sometimes you don’t even have to be “good.” Adequate is the only bar you need to meet. It’s not necessary that your kids get locally sourced, organic, nutritionally balanced meals every night or that you master the intricacies of fixing the copy machine. You can pick the areas where you need to excel and get by on everything else.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You know how your life feels like a frantic game of whack-a-mole? How you feel like you’re never caught up? Never in complete control? It’s okay to feel like that. Most people feel that way, and I suspect the ones who don’t are probably very boring (and bored) people. I can tell you one thing about whack-a-mole, you have to hit those moles one at a time; it’s not possible to knock them all out at once. It’s the same way with your life. Perseverance is about taking the problems one-by-one, day-by-day. First you settle the crying baby. Then you send that urgent work email. Then you call about getting the air conditioner fixed. Then you make a doctor’s appointment for the baby. Then you hop on that conference call….
Don’t beat yourself up. You’re going to have moments of failure. I don’t know what they will be or when—or what the consequences will be. All I know is that you will fail. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Get drunk or go for a run or let Calgon take you away. And then figure out how to avoid making that mistake again. The most successful people are the ones who learn from their failures. However, the happiest people are the ones who don’t beat themselves up for those failures.
Some days I wake up in the morning and think, “How will I make it through this day?” It’s a discouraging—but all too common—thought. Then I remind myself that I’ve had that thought on hundreds of previous mornings—and I made it through every single one of those days. You can too.
You don’t have to go it alone. Here at Office Accomplice, we know it gets overwhelming, but we’re in your corner. If you want to find out how we can help, please contact us.