Don’t you hate it when people tell you to calm down? I don’t like it either. But having that steady demeanor can sometimes keep you from derailing your relationship, career, and life. This is a story of how a moment’s calm in the face of distress saved an important project that I had been leading for almost a year. What should have been a major setback turned into an inspiring moral victory for the team.
When the stakes are high, a steady head will keep the situation from spiraling into a catastrophe. This was my biggest lesson from this experience.
I surveyed the room. Tension, stress, desperation, and hopelessness wore themselves on people’s tired faces. We had spent the last 50 minutes discussing the final few points of an important document set for release in the upcoming weeks only to come to the realization that it might not pass muster; the light at the end of the tunnel was dim.
The room fell into an uncomfortable silence.
Sensing mental exhaustion and lack of possible progress, I closed the topic and the team careened out the door like drunken sailors, chuckling at the impossible situation we found ourselves in.
Somehow, I felt an unnatural calm wash over me. Shouldn’t I be frantically searching for answers? I asked myself. After all, I was the project lead, and this was a key deliverable after almost a year of work. My mind was racing but not in a frantic mode. I was formulating steps forward, planning for the next discussion, and finalizing potential proposals to get this important artifact out the door.
Stop and breathe
A few moments later I found my manager sipping on black coffee at our on-campus Tully’s. The smell of coffee gave me a jolt. I caught up with him and we walked back to our office together. I always found the walk to/from the coffee shop the most relaxing, mainly because it gave me an opportunity to clear my head, get some fresh air, and enjoy the cherry blossoms along the way.
“I think I know a path forward, and I think we can get this done as promised,” I told him in all seriousness.
He looked at me in confusion as though saying through his eyes, “Were you not in that meeting?” It took a few moments for him to ask me, “You really think so?”
“Yes, I do. There’s a few key points brought up this morning, but I think I know a way for us to get consensus.”
He nodded. I don’t think he really believed me. We parted ways back to our respective desks. I went to work. I drafted a few proposals and after a healthy discussion with the project team soon after, we rescheduled a meeting with the same key stakeholders from the morning session for that afternoon.
We met in a small conference room and within an hour came up with a compromised solution to keep the project on track.
I left the office that day exhausted, but there was a definitive pep in my step. Not only did we avert disaster, but we also turned the tides, and I truly believed we were on our way to producing a higher quality product because of it.
In retrospect, that successful turnaround was made possible by a few factors: one, the team had time to blow off steam and regroup mentally; two, we didn’t let the morning loss deflate us — we got right back up and went to work that very afternoon to resolve the problem; and lastly and most importantly, my hand never wavered — I stayed as steady and level-headed as needed to lead the team through the challenge. I truly believe that had I panicked, the project would have been derailed.
Eye on the horizon, and steady on
Staying steady is difficult at times, especially when turmoil or utter excitement surrounds you. But those times are exactly when you need to breathe, slow down, and quell your emotions lest you make regretful decisions. The story I told is work-related, but the lesson can be applied in all facets of life.
Don’t let a dip in the stock market drive you off the side of the cliff, and conversely, don’t let a sudden boost in your mutual funds convince you to buy that yacht you can’t afford. Don’t suddenly start drinking three glasses of red wine nightly because some study said red wine is the best for your health. Chances are, another study will come out within a few weeks to dispute that claim.
Life is an unexpected ride through the jungle, in a beat-up Jeep, with random stops along the way. There might be consecutive moments of terror as your car climbs out of a ditch. There might be long stretches of pure serenity and beauty as jungle creatures come out to greet you. But your survival depends on you, the driver, staying steady as you navigate the treacherous paths: don’t over steer, don’t slam your brakes at the slightest rustling of the leaves, don’t grow complacent and fall asleep during the long stretches of paved roads, don’t despair if you lose radio signal, and don’t grow so emboldened as to invite the mountain lion into your car because it’s so cool.
Steady your car, my friends, and I’ll see you at the oasis in the middle of the jungle.