Sometimes, life just gets the best of you. No matter how hard you plan, things just happen that you can’t control. So when that happens, how should you react? How do you keep things together in your life and work when it feels like you’re barely treading water for weeks or even months at a time?
I’ve been experiencing this in my own life recently. The last few months have been wild. It started with the birth of my third child, who spent nine days in the NICU. During that same time, my husband and I were dealing with significant home renovations, including replacing our windows and siding. That meant having contractors in and out of our home and dealing with the frustrating red tape of city building codes. On top of that, we had the flu make the rounds in our family, which included a trip to the ER with our youngest.
And while all of this was happening, I still had countless work commitments to meet. I was working with clients, running my firm, recording the Everyday Money Podcast, and making plans for this year’s Virtual Externship.
When all of that wasn’t enough, a big winter storm hit Texas — our water pipes froze and our heater went out. It’s been an eventful few months, to say the least. And looking through that list, it seems like a trainwreck. But it honestly didn’t feel that way.
I think that’s because I’ve learned a few things about how to react when things don’t go as planned. So I wanted to share a few tips to help you the next time things go sideways in your life, work, or both.
Take stock of the situation
The first step is to take an honest look at what is going on. Sometimes, things happen as a consequence of something you did (or didn’t do). And if you can figure out that connection, it can help you prevent a similar situation in the future.
But sometimes, things just happen because that’s how life is. And when you can recognize which things are entirely out of your control, you can let those things go and look for areas where you can affect the situation.
Focus on what you can control
Once you’ve assessed the situation, direct your energy on those areas you can change. For example, I couldn’t control the city building codes that affected our home renovation, but I could hire professionals to do the work and schedule the inspections.
In most situations, there are usually a few things you can control. Even if those things are just your own reactions, you can still take control of your emotions and your schedule. You can drop things off your plate when life gets too busy or block out some time each week for your own self-care. Figure out what you can control, and focus on those areas.
Avoid the mental spiral
It’s really easy to give in to worry and start imagining all the additional things that can go wrong. Many of us feel like worrying gives us control, but it really doesn’t. Spending time and energy coming up with worst-case scenarios and then letting them play out in our imaginations doesn’t help anything, and it usually just adds stress and anxiety.
When those images pop up in your brain, don’t fixate on them. Instead of imagining all the horrible possibilities, go back to focusing on the things you can control and the actions you can take.
Find your support system
Finally, use this time to lean on your support system. It’s OK to ask for help — and it’s often the best course of action. Trying to do everything yourself during times of unexpected stress usually doesn’t work out very well.
I’ve been so thankful for my network during this wild time in my life. I have friends and family who are there for me, and I have an awesome team at work. I know I can trust my team to take care of my clients and pick up the slack when I have other things going on. And I know that down the road, I’ll be able to step in and help when one of my team members needs a little extra support.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. I’ve realized that having more help with the kids would make it easier for my husband and me to balance home and work responsibilities. So I’m working on hiring a house manager. Getting help from others isn’t a sign of failure — it’s a sign that you’re doing what’s necessary for the best possible outcome.
Don’t let unplanned events dictate your life
Figuring out how to manage your work when life is unpredictable is a tough skill to master. A lot of those skills are built through experience, but there are some ways to prepare. Unexpected things happen every day, which means you have a chance to practice your response. Instead of jumping on the worry train or focusing on all the what-ifs, figure out what you can control, and focus on those areas. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!
What are your best tips for dealing with unexpected circumstances? Add your thoughts in the comments!
When things get rough, it helps to know that you have a network you can lean on. Having a group of professionals is especially important when you’re going through a rough patch in your work. It helps to know that you can get encouragement and advice from others who have experienced similar challenges.
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