Archive for the ‘Stress’ Category

In July of 1999 I was working for Worldcom in Florida and my mother had flown down to visit me and my son.  We were making dinner on a Friday evening when a report came on CNN saying that John Kennedy Jr’s plane had gone down.  There are a few events in my life that are burned into my memory and this is one of them.

About a year after this tragedy Malcome Gladwell published an article in the New Yorker with the title – “The Art of Failure:  Why some people choke and others panic”.  You really should read the entire article.  Fascinating.  He goes on to talk about how choking, a term frequently used in sports, is very different than panic.  Choking during stressful situations, activates different parts of the brain than panic.  So in terms of Kennedy’s failure – he poses and answers the question: Why wasn’t he able to sense that something was wrong?   Some of the answers  might apply to how we deal with stress during organizational transformations and why we miss the “signs”, that cause chaos.

In times of low visibility and high stress, keeping your wings level is very difficult .  A pilot can’t even detect when he is graveyard spiral without his instruments.  Why?   In this death spiral, the effect of the plane’s G-force on the inner ear makes the pilot feel perfectly level even if he is not.  So did Kennedy choke or panic?  He panicked.  He did not revert to what he had learned about instrument reading.  Instead he just kept scanning the horizon for the lights on Martha’s vineyard.

Panic can cause tragic failure.  Scuba divers drown when they forget they can buddy breath with a partner.  I’d watch the news and hear about  90 year olds in Boca Raton who drove their cars into canals and drown because they’d  frantically try to push open their car door while submerged in water, when the first thing they needed to remember was to release their seat belt.  Sometimes failure happens because we trust too much, because we hire the wrong people, or don’t fire the right people, or just don’t set boundaries and say “Enough already”.

So what can we learn from these failures in order to craft our future successes?  Maybe:

  • pay attention, listen, and look for signs of things being amiss.  Poor visibility causes lots of  preventable tragedies
  • avoid focusing on one or two of the “lights on the horizon”.  I think it’s easy to fall in love with the innovation or the thing you are creating and forget that others might not love it so much
  • communicate a lot with the “control tower”.  These are the people you’re trying to lead, but also your friends.  Nothing is more valuable than a friend. They say all the supportive stuff you need to hear, even if at the moment it’s not really true.  They get you through.

Unlike JFK Jr., we’re all going to rise from the ashes smarter and stronger.  A  quote  from  Andre Agassi’s book “Open” tells us why.  He says –  “The same court on which you suffer your bloodiest defeat can become the scene of your sweetest triumph”.   That’s what we have look forward to. I know it.


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Today I’ve been thinking about the stages of grief.  Our friend EKR developed a framework to describe the five stages of grief that one goes through when they know they will die: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  Job Loss isn’t death.  In fact, it can be a re-birth, a relief, an enlightening experience, and an  opportunity (Yes, I agree with Mark – out of chaos can come opportunity). My favorite dramatic presentation of the stages of grief was a scene from the 1979 movie “All That Jazz” starring Roy Schneider.  (just click the underlined link to watch the “Hospital Hallucinations” scene. It’s about 9 minutes long but worth seeing again if you are a film fan).  I’ve assessed my own place in this journey and I don’t recognize having been through a denial phase. Anger passed quickly, but the Bargaining phase is what I think occurs every time I have to sell myself to an executive search firm.  I found a few suggestions on the web for moving on effectively and I think I’m naturally  applying a few of these.  They are:

  1. Take time to grieve
  2. Keep a diary of your feelings
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Form a new routine
  5. Form a support group, and
  6. Mount a job search.

Regarding point #5 I want to express my gratitude to “Team Severance”.  I have so much respect and admiration for all of you and really hope we stay connected long into the future.  If you’d like to share your journey through these stages please do.  But if that doesn’t feel right , comment back about what your are doing to lighten your load, and enjoy this time with family and friends.

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Cutting the Stress

When I get stressed I get my hair cut.  Not sure when this behavioral tick started, but it worked so I kept doing it.  No mohawk or shaved head; Just a wash and trim and the world always seemed better. So today I go for my haircut and something’s different.  I had forgotten that Cindy, my hairdresser, also cuts the hair of someone inside my old workplace.  So in the month between this cut and the last she has obviously heard about my situation and she was very nervous.  She called me by a name not my own, spilled her bottled water, and ended up cutting my hair too short.  All I wanted was my stress-reduction haircut but I got a Saturday Night Live skit.  Are people treating you differently?

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