Crippled CEO Blog #071:
“What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. The fact that it was unforeseen has never failed to intensify a person’s grief. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events.”
– Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
A few times per week, I convince myself that my brother has just died. I imagine it thoroughly. I make myself really upset.
The reason for this is counterintuitive. I do it because I want to be happier.
And you are right, this doesn’t seem like a happy thing to do. In fact, it seems like it would make you quite sad. And it does, temporarily. But that’s the point.
However, there are three things that this exercise does that end up making me happier overall.
After I’m done, I obviously remember that my brother really isn’t dead. Focusing on something terrible that hasn’t happened makes me better appreciate many of the good things that I might take for granted. Also, if I get myself to really feel like something legitimately tragic has happened, I get some of the same benefit people get from an actual tragedy: your perspective shifts to realize what’s really important, how great life is, and what trivial BS most of my “problems” actually are.
Last week, it looked like we might lose our largest customer in the worst way possible. Not only were they going to cancel the $1 million+ worth of orders that they had placed for the next couple of months, but they were also going to send back the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of inventory they had already purchased this year. This is not the way I wanted to start the year after the pandemic.
And while I did treat this with the gravitas it deserved and made it a top priority to resolve — lots of people’s livelihoods (including mine) depend on my ability to successfully navigate these kinds of existential threats — I don’t think any of the people who were working on this closely with me would say that I panicked or was otherwise freaking out. I was focused on it when I could make progress, and I thought about it often, but I wasn’t completely consumed by it. We got lots of other things done last week. And eventually, we got everything squared away. Crisis averted. I think one reason why I was able to keep my cool was because this “emergency“ was nothing in comparison to the visualization that I forced myself to have that my brother had died the day before. Next to that, this is no big deal. It’s just revenue that we can get back later. I was able to put something legitimately serious into the proper perspective in order to stay calm and address it thoughtfully and rationally.
Making yourself feel these emotions gets you used to experiencing them. It’s training. And like most training, it sucks and it’s painful, but the more you do it, the better you are at processing those feelings.
Not only are you training for the emotional impact, you are also training yourself to handle events like the one you imagine. If you think through everything you would do if you lost your job, if that were ever to happen, you would be more prepared. Not only would it be less of a shock emotionally, but pragmatically, you would already have some ideas of what steps to take — steps you decided on at a time when you had more clarity, not suddenly thrust into this surprise emergency.
Avoiding negative feelings, hopping from one happy moment to another, seems like a happier way to live, but it is building a foundation made of sand. You need to visualize the worst thing that could possibly happen, really put yourself in the situation, to create a more solid foundation for happiness, and to give you the tools to move forward with things when they go wrong, as they always do.
(Did you like that? Your mom liked it. And it’s not the only thing she liked. I text her every week, normally late at night, and I could also send you a text every time I post the newest blog. Send a message to 484848 with the word CRIP as the message and you’ll get a text from me as soon as the latest one is up. Also, tell your mom I’ll see her later.)