When Sh!# Happens: How to Stay Strong During Disaster and Bad News
Multiple times in my life, I’ve received bad news. The death of my grandmother. My father needing a kidney transplant. Being released (that means fired) from an NFL team.
Minor disasters have cropped up too, like popping a tire when I had a guest in town, being benched on after a game, missing the connecting flight.
Forrest Gump put it precisely: “Shit happens.” How we deal with it, however, happens by our choice. You can’t ignore a problem or it gets worse.
Here are five ways I worked out, over the years, to get through the bad times and come out even better afterward. Have you tried any of these?
1. Be Honest with Yourself
You have to be honest with yourself. About how you’re feeling — and then feel it. If you’re sad, cry. If you’re angry, be mad. Go lift weights; go burn that anger off. Yell. I’ve seen teammates scream in their car after being cut. I’ve seen teammates cry silently on the bus after missing the game-winning catch or having the game-losing fumble.
Sometimes, you’re a little numb at first and that’s OK. The best thing you can do for yourself after that is to be honest about how it makes you feel. Where are you at? Feel what you need to feel.
When things fall apart, sometimes I just start laughing and find the humor in it. My wife has a friend who sometimes laughs uncontrollably when she gets sad, which seems strange on the surface but actually isn’t uncommon.
It does not matter what your process is: find it. When bad things happen, do what’s best for you. That starts with being honest about how you feel, how you want to react. And then letting it out.
2. Take Some Time
The second thing bad situations require is for you to take at little time Take a break, step away.
I was talking to one of the front-office members of the Chicago Cubs about this. One of the big issues we discussed was: how do you react emotionally in the workplace, specifically, in a sports environment? For an officer, although they are part of a sports team, they need to behave differently than the actual players on the field. They can’t walk around the office breaking bats over their knees. So I asked, “How do you handle frustration about disasters at work?”
This executive told me, “Ryan, I always take 24 hours.” He said, “Twenty-four hours gives me the time I need to think about what it is I want to say, how I want to react and the steps I have to take to stop a bad thing from happening and to turn the page.”
Take some time, whether that’s 5 breaths, 5 hours, 24 hours, or a couple days. Give yourself time to grieve, if it’s that kind of news. Give yourself some time to make a decision, away from the situation, if that’s what you need to do. Take your time, and you will come out stronger.
3. Change It Up
The third way to handle disruption is to do something different. Adapt. This thing happened. What CAN you change?
The worst coach I ever had in the NFL didn’t change a bit when bad things happened on the field. He continued to call the same plays. He continued to go on the same snap count. He failed to adapt to the situation and shift. It didn’t help. He lost his job.
It’s easy to do that in life, though, when bad things happen to us. We continue to go back to how it was. “Something bad happened. Okay, I’m going to go back to my routine, I’m going to go back to…”
When something bad happens, do something different. Take a walk where you’ve never been. Have a meeting outside. Have a conversation with a trusted person over dinner. Gather with your family in a way or in a place that you have not gathered before. Go to a new restaurant. Go someplace new for a date.
Shake it up. Do something different. Oftentimes, the best thing for you is just to get up and get out.
Life is different now. Adding new things to your life, besides giving you something to do, will help you adapt.
4. Smile Any Way You Can
When bad things happen, call to mind that you have survived each and every one of the worst things that have happened to you so far. Smile in the face of adversity. Think about what it will be like when this is behind you and smile at it.
Smiling makes it hard to hang on to a bad mood. You will get through this. You will eventually end up beyond it. If you are struggling, find a reason to smile.
No, I don’t mean sit there grinning happily at your grandmother’s funeral, but you can smile at your parent and your aunts who just lost a parent. Smile for your spouse as you work through a financial struggle. Smile at others who are suffering with you.
In Islam, it is said that a smile is charity. When you smile at someone or something, you are giving a gift. Smile for others until you can smile for yourself. Smiling triggers endorphins, too. It’s good for you and will help you get through tough spots.
When bad things happen to you, you can smile also because you are that much closer to being through it.
5. Check in with Gratitude
My favorite thing to do when bad things happen is to make a gratitude list.
Leaving my cousin’s wedding in Hawaii — the most amazing, beautiful wedding I had been to (outside of my own, of course) — multiple flights were canceled. I faced delays. I spent over 18 hours traveling to get where I needed to be for my next day of work.
Instead of being mad in that moment, instead of being angry with the airline, I said to myself, “Well, I’m thankful I’m not flying the plane. I’m thankful I don’t have to answer to 300 screaming people, upset that they’re missing their connecting flight. I’m happy that I have Wi-Fi so I can download and answer emails. I’m happy that I have some content on my iPad so I can watch a movie.”
All of a sudden, I’ve got things to do. I’m moving. A quick gratitude list can go a long way towards landing on sunnier shores.
What do you do to pull yourself out of a disaster or bad news?