I’m writing this in my last scrap of time on a Friday. The daycare called and asked us to pick up one of the kids. According to the latest COVID guidelines here, the little ones had to be sent home. Understandable of course, but frustrating all the same, as I watch my plan for the workday fall apart. This happens all the time with young children, I’m learning. Even without a global pandemic.
And kids or no kids, things don’t always go your way.
My tendency in such cases? To get upset. Frustrating circumstances can be maddening. As if the universe is conspiring to thwart your plans. That frustration eats up energy and gets you nowhere – except maybe headed into a downward spiral.
That’s one of the first things I learned during a Covey personal leadership course I took back in college, when I was studying computer science: Focus on what you can change. Leave the rest be.
Chiel Smit, the teacher who showed me how picking up a self-help book can be a game changer, always used this example: It’s senseless to get mad at the rain. Won’t keep you one drop drier.
Ever since, I’ve noticed again and again: It’s not others who make you angry or frustrated. That anger or frustration is all yours. It’s your own response to what’s happening beyond your reach. That doesn’t make the situation easy, but it does clearly show who’s got the ball: You.
Those frustrating moments – like the broken days and nights with young children – are my chances to do better. To rise above old habits and exceed expectations. Not only to make the best of the situation, but to welcome the chance to show that I’m a loving father and partner.
Sometimes it helps to see my own frustrations as a game. My anger’s a monster that crosses my path, so I can practice getting more and more adept at warding it off.
If you know me in real life, you know this isn’t always how things go. My wife Joàn will subtly (or not so subtly) point out the gap between how I do things and how I want to do things. My accountability partner Derk and I have made explicit agreements that when things don’t go as planned, I won’t let it get to me and affect my mood. I’ve fallen back on those agreements often.
Do what you need to do in order to take the emotions you experience – the frustration of working at home for months on end, the disappointment at that cool project that fell through, the sadness for the friends and family you haven’t seen in forever – and transform them into personal insight. Reflect on the fact that those emotions are coming from inside and you can influence them. Relish each time you manage to shrug off small frustrations. Heed where you could use some more outside help to park your anger.
Writing and talking always work well for me – during my own reflecting, or when I go over the week with Derk, or in the pages of my journal, or using the Energy Tracker I made to keep tabs on my week.
And be gentle with yourself. You may singlehandedly deal with a situation you used to find frustrating on one day, and then need someone else’s take on things the next. That’s ok. It’s all progress. Take it as it comes.
Thanks for listening and have a good week!