In praise of coping

Our culture encourages us to act vigorously and energetically in order to pursue goals or when things do not go as we would like. We are told to Just Do It! To pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and soldier on, to roll up our shirtsleeves and get in there, to fight the good fight (am I missing any?). We are unaccustomed to waiting it out, sitting patiently, and choosing observant non-action. I’d like to address the unsung glories of just dealing with it.

The teachers at my kids’ school have a saying, “You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit.” I love this. Sometimes your boss is a jerk. Sometimes change is painful and arduous. Sometimes initiatives fail and the customer is angry and you don’t get the raise you believe you deserve. Life is full of discomforts and growing pains and plain old suffering, and organizational life is not exempt. Most of the time, “pitching a fit” by resisting unpleasant circumstances only worsens your suffering and that of those around you. Just dealing gives you a chance to pause before acting, which helps you choose the best course of action – and sometimes, no action is better than “just doing it.” I am certainly not saying that we shouldn’t be active players in our lives, but that we need to know when to moderate activity. To succeed in whatever we endeavor to do, of course we need to act – but we should not choose reacting over responding. Our ability to respond is a function of how well we can sit with discomfort before acting.

Sometimes life is stressful, and we just have to cope until better times return. Effective copers eat well, sleep sufficiently, exercise the body, and train the mind. These practices give us the capacity to live with whatever is before us, to allow things unfold so that we can thoughtfully choose to act and respond vs. react and resist. Being well helps us maintain a supportive attitude and perspective, even when things aren’t going our way. If your body is distracting you with unease and your mind is frantic and anxious, it cannot remind you that this too shall pass. Life has seasons, and by choosing to remember to be grateful for what is good in the moment and consciously focusing on the bigger picture of your life, we can get through the cold, dark winters. There will be times when the situation you find yourself in is disadvantageous and you can’t change it, but you can change how you respond. Will you thrash about or handle it gracefully? What can you learn through the experience? As a leader and manager, demonstrating calm and poise even during stressful periods not only sets a good example for your people, doing so also builds your reputation and enhances your effectiveness.

“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt