Facing difficult times? Look at the long-term and take holistic view

Few months back, I spent several hours counseling a junior colleague. She was disturbed that her salary was far lower than others in similar roles, with similar experience and qualification. She felt that despite being the most hard-working member in the team, she was not getting due recognition. And her promotion was delayed. She was consumed with these worries; to an extent where they had started impacting her day-to-day work. Unfortunately, it was impacting her personal life. She was unhappy even out of work and was much stressed.
This colleague is not an exception; many of us may have either gone through similar situations ourselves or have seen others going through them. People are ambitious; which is good. However, ambition is also a double-edged sword. When things do not work out the way we want them to, stress starts building up. And it tends to encompasses several aspects of life.

Why do we get so caught up in here and now?
When things are not going as per plan or wishes, we find it hard to look at the long-term and take holistic view. Intuitively, everyone knows that life is not a 100 meters race, it’s a marathon. However, it’s easier said than done!
I have seen that personal reflection helps a lot. Let me share an example. More than a decade back, I was working on a project with a very difficult customer. Irrespective of how best I tried as the project manager, the customer was never happy. I had an inexperienced team to handle. To top it all, I was deputed to a different city. I was away from my family; my son was still very young. He kept falling ill in my absence. At that time, nothing seemed to be working right – either personally or professionally. After 3-4 months, with the help of my boss I was able to return to my base location. And traveled extensively to client site. It continued for few more months. We completed the project, but not to client’s satisfaction. My boss understood, but the COO was very unhappy with me. I felt that he was being unfair and was angry with him. Needless to say, I could not do much about it. It only increased my stress levels. Unfortunately, it reflected in my personal life as well.

Today, when I look back at those months, I don’t feel anything. I remember the difficult times, but the emotions are not there. Surprisingly, I don’t feel anything for the COO as well. Now, I can dispassionately look at his point of view. In contrast, I remember all the things that I learnt by managing the project. And how those learnings helped me in future projects. My performance appraisal and year-end increment were negatively impacted that year. But, it had no bearing what so ever on my future career.

When I reflect on those months, I realize that I was horribly caught up in the ‘here and now’. It was almost as though there was nothing before it. And there would be nothing after it. I realize that I was not managing the project, the project was consuming me.

Could I have managed my emotions and stress levels better had I taken a more long-term and holistic approach? The answer is a resounding YES.

Today when faced with difficult situations, I try and take this approach. I remind myself that the current difficulty or hurdle – however hard and seemingly impossible to handle – is a very small part of my life. Life is much larger than the problem. I consciously try to contain it and refrain it from spreading to other areas of life. The long-term and holistic approach helps work with the problem in a dispassionate and objective manner.

                                  “There is no black-and-white situation. It’s all part of life. Highs, lows, middles.”
                                                                                                                                         Van Morrison

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