A Zen Master on a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

We all have them. You know, those days when from dawn to dusk nothing seems to go right at work.

I can handle a lot of change and a fair amount of conflict. What sends me over the edge every time, though, is when my technology quits working right about the time I have a deliverable. I can go from zero calm to totally frazzled in 2.5 seconds–or less. I’m not proud of it, but that’s how I’ve been wired in the past.

Stressed out leaders

But today was different. It was different because I got the best coaching I’ve ever gotten about how to manage my techno-stress. I believe this advice will also serve me well in other areas of my work and personal life, so I’d like to share it with you.

My Story

I’ll start with a bit of back story. I’m currently working a gig as a Change Manager for a major company. Last week, just as I was getting the hang of things and had a bunch of deliverables to hand over and presentations to make, strange things began to happen with my computer.

The first thing was that every PowerPoint slide would print with all the text outside of the shapes. I called and received some excellent support from our IT experts, but we didn’t find the problem day one, day two, or even day three. On day four, Outlook began doing funny things as well. We found a temporary fix that worked but then on day five that poor computer had to think awfully hard to boot up at all. I started to wonder if the hard drive was going.

Yep, that was it. So, our IT team provided me with a loaner machine, and I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that I could still make my deadlines. Unfortunately, the hard drive on that machine wasn’t working either. My stress was rising, but the next day things started looking up when I got a call to pick up my work computer.

It was as good as new. I was jubilant. So, today I got up at dawn determined to catch up and even get ahead with all the work that had begun to pile up. I rolled into work ready to move mountains. Then, I turned on the computer. Nothing happened. It wouldn’t boot up. For the first few minutes, I was cool, I was calm. I know what you’re supposed to do if your computer won’t boot up. Reboot, right? No such luck. That darn machine just would not boot up. I panicked.

A Session with a Technical Zen Master

I trudged downstairs with gloom on my face and found my IT expert. He took one look at me, and this is what he said.

“Breathe, Sher. Take a big, deep breath and just breathe.”

“But you don’t understand,” I began to babble. “This isn’t the first time . . .” and I started to enumerate all my techno-woes.

My computer expert smiled gently and held up a hand.

“Stay with me, right now in this moment.”

“But . . . ”

My new Zen Master didn’t lose one ounce of calm. He wasn’t arrogant, frustrated, or pushy when he nodded at me and said,

“I understand that you have a story about all the things that have happened, but let’s focus on what is happening right this minute. Stay with me in this moment, and don’t think about the past. When you come right down to it, all we can do anyway is focus on now and fix the problem.”

So, I took a breath, sat down, and then took another. What he said certainly made sense and the way he said it was lovely. And, wouldn’t you know it, when he turned on the computer it booted right up. The computer had just been cycling through some updates. That’s all. I was on my way in less than five minutes.

The Choice is Ours

For the rest of the day, I kept thinking about what my computer expert had said. I thought about how I handled other situations and how my colleagues did as well. Most of the time, we don’t have control over things that go wrong. But we always have control over how we respond. It’s so easy to fall into our own stories about woulda, coulda, shoulda, and yet telling and retelling our woes doesn’t solve a darn thing in the end.

Taking a deep breath, though, and thinking about what we can do in the present to move forward is much more productive. Taking action to put a plan in place and then moving forward alleviates stress enormously.

The choice is always ours. We just have to remember that. I will never forget how kind this computer expert was today in helping me resolve my techo-issues. Instead of thinking I might have to move to Australia–the potential solution for the main character in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst–I finished my day right where I most wanted to be. Here in Minneapolis, working with a brand new client. How lucky did I get to be?


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