We all know life can be hectic – it’s often sleep, eat, work, with some attempts at getting your other chores to fit into the schedule. Our lives are generally organized in terms of our budget, time schedule, and tasks, and those plans can be tight and unyielding. That’s why when something goes awry, it can leave us feeling panicked and unsure of what to do.
When I got back home from visiting family over the holidays, I knew I would have to budget to make it through the month. I had already planned for this. However, I was surprised to return to a bill for four months of gas. Bills in Ireland come in at varying rates, so I haven’t yet figured out when to expect them, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for the hefty fee that welcomed me home.
Having read and re-read the amount, I sat down on my bed to cry. How was I going to be able to afford this? After letting the tears fall for a moment, a voice appeared in my head and asked, quite simply, “What are you going to do about it?”
Don’t Wallow – Get to Work!
About a week after opening that gas bill, my PhD supervisor advised me to “never sit on a problem.” In this case, she was talking about my difficulty getting access to the books I needed from my university’s library, but she also made it clear that the tip applied to all situations. When a problem arises, don’t waste time by feeling sorry for yourself and wallowing in perceived helplessness. Do something about it!
After my mini cry-session, I listened to the voice in my head questioning my plan of action. I opened up my budget spreadsheet on my laptop and I got to thinking. I managed to find some money, but not enough to cover the whole thing. Now what? I decided on a new course of action: On Monday, I called the gas company to inquire about adjusting my payment schedule. They worked with me to arrange a plan that was feasible for both of us.
When you are faced with an unexpected challenge, go ahead and take a moment to cry, breathe, or scream into a pillow. When you’re done, get to work and create a plan of attack. Is there someone who can help with your situation? Can you adjust your resources or schedule to accommodate this new obstacle? Even if you can’t resolve the entire problem, figure out how much you can do to relieve it. Make a list of options – or even a spreadsheet – and determine which are the most achievable and least stressful for you. If you’re really in a bind and don’t know what to do, reach out to your support network for advice and reassurance.
Also realize that sometimes you’ll need to tackle one part of a larger problem. It’s okay – and often necessary – to focus on one piece of the puzzle at a time. Be ready to break larger issues into smaller components and tackle them one by one. Don’t stress about it – know that you’re moving the right direction.
By taking immediate action, you are preventing the situation from getting worse. Allowing a problem to fester will only make it more difficult to fix. Most obstacles continue to grow while you avoid them and procrastinate taking action, so start chipping away at them immediately.
Prevent Future Challenges
I am proud of how quickly I tackled the gas bill problem, but that can’t be where the story ends. I need to make sure that I am never caught off guard again.
The same principle applies to every other obstacle. You were taken aback by the challenge, but you were able to overcome it efficiently. Your next step is to avoid this emotionally draining situation in the future. How can you do that? Perhaps, like me, you’ll create a schedule of when this obstacle might materialize again. Maybe your situation is not something foreseeable but is random or simply not supposed to happen. In this case, you might stockpile emergency resources appropriate to the situation.
A good approach, no matter what your specific problem is, is to outline how the challenge came to be. What warning signs did you miss? What things did you forget to consider? How did you end up here? By writing out the path that led to the current mess, you will be able to identify the warning signs more easily and be more able to avoid retreading that unfortunate trail later on.
Unexpected jolts to your life can leave you feeling frustrated and helpless. While it’s good to take a moment to express your emotions, remember to get to work on resolving your challenge as quickly as possible. By taking immediate action, you will prevent the problem from getting bigger and more challenging. After you devise and execute your plan of action, take steps to prevent this obstacle from appearing in your path again by outlining how that situation came to be in the first place. With that process identified, you will be able to avoid repeating your mistakes in the future. You’ll be ready to conquer whatever life throws at you next.