What to do if a storm in a teacup looks like a hurricane?
I spoke with a friend in the week who was caught up with a problem at work. Should she do x, or y, or maybe x would make them think z and so maybe she should really do w, but what if… and so we went on.
At some point it became clear that she wished she had made a different decision in the past and her present dilemma was as much about trying to solve her feelings of embarrassment (ideally by turning back the clock!) as it was about extricating herself gracefully from the situation she was in now.
It reminded me of an incident with my husband the previous weekend, which I related to my friend,
I need your advice,
I’m in a pickle. I’ve double booked myself and I don’t know how to get out of it.
He looked forlorn, and serious, and so, I took him seriously.
I encouraged him to tell me more and it turned out he’d got into a bit of a mess with upcoming travel plans. He’d arranged a taxi to collect him from flight #1 and bring him home (a two-hour trip), only to have also booked a second taxi to take him back to the airport for flight #2 within minutes of arriving home.
What should he do, he didn’t have enough time to delay the second taxi, what about his clothes (one hot country, one cold country), what was he going to tell the taxi firm, and what about the two contracts, if he needed to cancel a taxi who’s taxi would he cancel…
Just a teacup then…
I laughed, it’s rare for me to take these kinds of storms seriously, which is probably why he brings them to me, hoping that the reflection of what I saw would help him disentangle reality from illusion.
I didn’t see a problem, I only saw funny. With a side of compassion for his confusion.
I’m sure hubby wished he’d left a day or two between trips. Or that he’d been more on top of his travel plans — that he’d actually read the emails, or realised that arrival and departure times are different from start and end dates in-country. Perhaps he wished he’d used that online calendar I’d been ‘suggesting’ to him for months, that he didn’t have to cancel taxis, or break the news that he wasn’t going to be home at all between trips. And, since I know he hates long trips, I could see him making-up a future possible homesickness.
As soon as he realised he was looking into a teacup, not a hurricane, any self-criticism of his administrative shortcomings evaporated and it became clear that taking that taxi from one terminal to the other was the better of all the choices he had in front of him.
And even that is imaginary…
We all do this, all of us. When we use how we feel (especially negative feelings) as a barometer of how serious our ‘problem’ is, we spin ourselves round in circles and it becomes much harder, firstly to create choices, and, secondly to feel into which is the right one in that moment.
The reality was that he had plenty of time to make the second flight, he could book lounge access and shower after his overnight flight, he had a couple of hours to rest or work on his report…
Suddenly it wasn’t looking so bad, some phone calls to be made but no harm done, commitments would still be met and, oh well, he’d be more careful in future.
And most of life is like this.
When we are more aware of when we are getting snarled up wishing ‘what is’ was different, we can also see more clearly what needs to be done with what is in front of us.
And that, my friend, is what makes life run much more smoothly.
About the author
Cathy Presland is an expert in human-centred leadership and transformative change. She has more than two decades of experience in government and international organisations and her focus as a coach is to support impact-driven individuals and organisations to improve their performance, leadership and peace of mind to enable them to make more of a difference with the work they do.