Search This Blog

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Monday Morning Check In: Dealing with Setbacks and Roadblocks

The title of this blog post seems particularly appropriate since I've missed the last few Monday Morning Check Ins myself. I came back from my Cincinnati trip, and the end of the school year and symphony season hit with a bang! As I raced to finish up all the final performances and recitals and juries of the season, I encountered a few surprises, setbacks, and roadblocks to my forward progress.

A few weeks ago I learned that two dear friends were burdened with major health issues. As I spent time thinking about both of my friends, I learned several valuable lessons while I watched how these two friends responded to the trials ahead of them. Both of them approached the issues dead on. If there was any fear or concern, neither showed any to the public. Instead of wallowing, whining, or whimpering with self-pity -- and no one would have begrudged them the right to do so -- these two ladies marched ahead strongly. Both sought out the necessary facts available for dealing with the issues and then matter-of-factly made the arrangements to handle the problem. As I considered the mountain of issues these ladies tackled, I found that my own set of issues were the size of hillocks in comparison.

Let me share some of my thoughts with you in the hopes that we may all benefit in the future.

I think that our first step when dealing with problems is to consider the attitude with which we ponder our fate and our dilemma, because I think it is our choice of attitude that may determine how difficult it is to face and deal with our burdens. If we consider the lessons of nature, we can learn that nature invites balance and working together. Water goes over and around obstacles. Although water can eventually drill itself through something, like rock or canyon walls, the process takes more than we will see in a lifetime. Likewise, we can work with our circumstances or around them, but to choose to bang our heads against them may take more effort and time and energy than we can handle effectively or comfortably.

Our personality most likely has much to do with our choice of dealing with problems. I'm mostly choleric in personality style, and I recall my mother describing to me how I would try to force my stroller through a spot in the wall because I thought that a door should go there and I was determined to force it to happen. Sort of the bull or hammer approach. Sanguines would tend to talk their problems to death. Melancholics would wallow in it or elect to spend some "turtle time" in bed. Phlegmatics would likely shrug it off and do something else or even nothing at all.

Most of our stress in life, I believe, is caused by our failure to make a decision: start or stop, get in or get out, yes or no. Our choice of language will indicate this waffling avoidance, as we whine such words as "maybe, not sure, perhaps, later, but, what if." These are words that kill ambition, resolution, decision, and motion.

Instead I prefer to think of these words: "retrench, reboot, rethink, retry, disassociate, repent, accept, help, evaluate, chisel." These words imply action and spur me to consider movement in some direction. I remind myself that I can always turn around or go in another direction. One choice does not exclude a different choice later. I try not to grieve too much because grieving is a more static state, and by focusing on something to such a strong degree, we are inviting ourselves to enter the "dark side" of wallowing, anger, or self-pity. Instead I do not permit my mind to do more than glance at a negative emotion or thought. Instead I gently remind myself of these two questions:
  • Did I do anything wrong? If I did not do anything wrong, then I just accept what has happened and move on. I look ahead to what I can do in the future. If I did something wrong, I look to learn from it. I repair or restore whatever I might need to fix and then work to rebuild a stronger preventative response for the future. I move on and look ahead.
  • Would I do anything differently if I had to do it all over again? If my answer is no, then I just move on and look ahead. If I would do things differently the next time the situation comes up, then I work to figure out what that something might be and how I might accomplish it in a better way, and then I move on and look ahead.
Notice that whatever answers I give to myself, I wind up ultimately moving on and looking ahead. Again, I think that movement, in particular forward movement, is crucial to a successful and happy attitude. Note I said "happy" and not just "positive."

Do I feel disappointment? Absolutely. Am I saddened by a particular turn of events in a direction that I did not expect? Certainly. Do I feel like crying or yelling. Sure, that happens too. I just refuse to allow myself to go there if I can work my way out of that place. Such emotions and expressions do happen. They do help us to heal our emotional and mental state. Tears are part of life. Anger happens too. Both things may be natural but I find that they can lead to a lot of unhelpful thoughts and actions, so I try not to dwell unduly in those dark places more than just a few fleeting moments here and there. I work to remember what Dean Karnazes ("Ultramarathon Man") said: "There's magic in misery." The magic is different for everyone, but it is there if we look for it. The negative thoughts are there, but instead of dragging us down to a dark place, they can spur us on to seek the light. We just need to remember to turn our backs on the negative side and face the light.

"Pain is inevitable. Suffering, however, is optional." Thank you, Ultramarathon Man, Karno. In his own words (from Run, by Dean Karnazes): "Just as a problem-free life never makes a strong and good person, smooth roads never made a good runner. As the runner fights the urge to stop, she masters her very mind. In overcoming adversity, she better understands the inner workings of her psyche. Life becomes bigger, bolder, filled with greater potential. 'In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity for growth,' Einstein wrote." These profound words illustrate my reasons for maintaining a running program. These words illustrate the types of lessons I learn and experience on a regular basis. Running reminds me to "grow." Running reminds me to cope.

Instead of wallowing in disappointment and enjoying my negativity, I focus on "just the facts, ma'am." I find the words of the Johnny Nash song illuminate the appropriate state of mind for handling a roadblock or problem:

"I can see clearly now the rain is gone.
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.
It's gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day."

So the next time I bump up against what I might perceive as a stumbling block or setback, I will remember my two friends and the lessons and thoughts they inspired in me. I will think about the courage my one friend showed when she lived through a double mastectomy and faced the news that she would need heavy chemotherapy in the sudden span of two week's notice. I will then recite the words of my other friend Ana, who may be dealing with horrible physical pain on a daily basis and struggling to get out of bed every morning to deal with the next steps in her treatment program. I will focus on her new mantra: "That's alright. It's all part of it." And I will move forward and look ahead because it's alright, and it's all part of it.


  1. I believe that if you can play the violin, you can do anything.

  2. I am sure you are right. Both of my dear friends play the violin and were wonderful students.

  3. Wonderful post the way you express yourself. I am inspired by your words and will link this post to my website under my blog. BTW I must give Peggy the credit for the mantra for she is blazing this trail before me with amazing courage....."That's alright. It's all part of it."

  4. Repeat after me, everyone: "That's alright. It's all part of it."