I started my first job in advertising six weeks after losing my younger brother to a car accident while he was at Vanderbilt during his sophomore year. To this day, the pain of losing my brother takes my breath away, and looking back, I don’t know how I made it through the difficult time. Life seemed so cruel and unkind, but some how with little steps forward I was able to survive. Eventually, I thrived in advertising in New York, it was the perfect place for me in my 20s/early 30s.
Life can be cruel and unkind, and is rarely fair. We live in the real world—not the ideal world. Work can be a stalwart rock during times of turmoil or it can bring chaos into your personal life. The trick for equilibrium is to remember the bigger picture. A few tricks of the trade:
1. Remember that your boss isn’t your therapist.
Many people are perfectly comfortable with sharing every detail of their life in the workplace. If you talk to your boss like she’s your best friend, you’ll be taking your relationship into a personal “gray” area. You don’t want to create a dynamic where your boss thinks that every time you need to talk to them, it’s going to be an hour long therapy session. You might start finding that your boss is “busy” more so than usual and you’ll lose work-related face time. While you should give your boss a heads up that you’re dealing with some personal issues, make sure they know you’re handling it and that it won’t affect your performance.
2. Make time to deal with what’s going on.
Set aside time outside of work to deal with what’s going on. This can be anything from keeping a journal, to seeking a therapist, to joining a support group. The goal here is to actively work through your issues and not suppress what you’re going through. Everything seems impossible during these tough times, but finding a network of people who have a similar life experience can help immensely.
3. Focus on small tasks.
Breaking down a difficult task into small parts will help you stay focused and finish a project. It can be tempting to procrastinate during the chaos, but procrastination just takes away your ability to succeed. You always have the time you need to do a project right without the last minute crunch. Every morning, review your to-do list and focus on the toughest projects right away. Finishing a difficult task in the morning will to give you a feeling of accomplishment before lunch. It’s critical to your success to be a go-to person who can accomplish tasks in a timely manner.
4. Take a break.
A mental break in the middle of the day to feel the sun on your face, or people watch, or just let your mind wander is necessary. These mental breaks can help you re-energize and think more clearly. It can also help you to see other functioning people. Everyone has their issues, but everyone winds a way to deal. You can too.
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5. Use music.
Music and movies can provide the perfect escape during a difficult time. Find the soundtrack to this moment in your life. Make a playlist of songs that are speaking to you. Pick up a new album that’s the opposite of what you usually listen to. Read a new genre of novels. Your life has changed completely, so you might want to seek new inspirations along the way.
During difficult times there isn’t one panacea that can cure you. It will take many small and arduous steps to thrive once again. You are building a well of inner strength that will stay with you throughout your life journey. After all, in life and work, sometimes it’s all about the journey.