Many people love surprises. A surprise party. A surprise gift. A surprise visitor at the front door. These are often viewed as joyous and memorable events. However, not all surprises are positive. Many negative surprises occur in life, and they can greatly impact our perspective, mood and subsequent behavior.
Much of life is about dealing with unexpected and undesirable outcomes. A flight delay. The traffic jam. Losing one’s job. A loved one’s passing. Negative events and feelings are impossible to avoid and can be very difficult to get out of. They often activate our amygdala, which in turn can cause us to worry incessantly, get upset and make unwise choices.
Resilience is the antidote to undesirable outcomes.
Whenever something terrible happens, don’t forget to take a moment to seek context and perspective. Without it, your mind is doomed to focus on the quality of the “outcome” without the ability to put what just happened into proper context. Without context, we limit our ability to recognize what constructive options we can consider. Practicing resilience will help one better understand what has happened and, hopefully, opens the door to consider healthy thoughts, corrective actions, and discussions one needs to move forward. Resilience is like “mental weightlifting”, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Consider it your “emotional muscle” that protects you from within.
The Best Gift I Received in 2020
This past March I had a conversation with my Grandfather, WWII Navy Veteran, Harry F. Goettsch. Little did I know at the time, it would result in a significant perspective change for me – in fact I am calling it the greatest gift I received in 2020.
Our phone call was during the time when a then “new strain” of coronavirus was wreaking havoc. Markets fell 30% in just over 30 days, the USS Comfort medical ship was docked in NYC, everything was shutting down, grocery stores were out of everything, and my Grandparents were locked (and still are today) inside their apartment within their retirement facility. I wanted his perspective on how his generation was able to survive past times of uncertainty, but more importantly, what lessons or perspectives it provided him over his life.
Harry served on the USS Colbert and was aboard the ship on September 17th, 1945. It was on this day that, while anchored heavily and riding out a terrible typhoon off the coast of Okinawa, it struck a floating sea mine, which killed three men and damaged the ship extensively and knocked out the engines. For the next 24 hours the ship listed in 40+ foot seas and many on board thought they were going to sink and die. Harry said the sound of the 100+ MPH winds and waves was something he won’t ever forget.
By the time the storm finally relented the ship had been dragged miles toward the coastline and nearly went aground, but it didn’t sink and Harry survived. I asked him if he was scared and he said of course, but the seaman relied on their training, manned emergency stations, and prayed for help.
Fast forward to March 2020. I asked Harry what others are saying about being lock inside their retirement community. He said they were coping but did recall one of the residents lamenting on the lockdown and was wondering how long this was going to take. Harry said to the person, “It will take however long it is going to take and that is a sacrifice we all must accept in order for us all to get through this.” I teared up. The man of 100 years of age just reinforced the lesson I needed for 2020.
It Could Have Been Worse
It’s never as bad as you think. The flight delay could have become a cancelled flight. The traffic accident could made you later had it blocked all lanes. The job loss would have been worse without emergency savings or unemployment insurance. The ship in 1945 with my grandfather on board, could have sank.
Such perspectives can provide a sense of relief and gratitude that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Thank goodness! And while that change in perspective won’t change the present circumstance, it can greatly change our thoughts, actions and future outcomes. It gives you a chance to exercise the resilience required to survive and move forward.
Synthesizing the Year
2020 was a difficult year. It is easy to find things to complain about, get depressed about and/or get angry about. Those are all natural and expected responses from such a significant and negative shock as a global pandemic. Many of us, myself included, look forward to 2021, hoping we never see another 2020 again.
We, individually, could not control the global impact of COVID19, nor the innate feelings they produced. But we are in control of how we choose to remember the past, handle the present and frame the future.
A Better Perspective
Whenever we realize how much worse something could have been, we are in a position to feel grateful and fortunate that it could have been much worse. Such a perspective may not change the reality in which we live, but it can greatly change our mood and outlook for the future.
Here is to a healthy, happy and strong 2021! Even with the current surge in COVID19 transmission, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We could have been in a worse position.
As Harry F. Goettsch Jr. would say, “We are all in this together.”