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Posted by on Apr 14, 2014 | 5 Comments

Swimming Is Dangerous In Ocean Waves

Last Friday, as I was leaving one meeting and heading to the next, I ducked into Barnes and Noble for a quick respite (my feet were killing me as I had been a bit overly-ambitious with my city walking) when my husband called and asked me to run a quick errand for him.  It shouldn’t have been a big deal but it felt massive.  I was tired.  I had my own agenda (that did not include his errand).  My phone was dying.  And the next meeting was important to me – I knew I needed a quick break in order to be fully present.  My inner-toddler revolted.  The feelings I was experiencing felt much bigger than the situation at hand and I wasn’t, in the moment, on his time-line, able to navigate them.

In a voice that betrayed my irritation I told him I’d solve the problem, but I needed to get off the phone.  The truth was, I wasn’t sure how I was going to solve the problem.  At the moment I knew I didn’t want to solve the problem.  And I knew that if I was going to take it on, I needed to shift from doing it as an obligation, to doing it because I wanted to help him out – which, in the moment, felt nearly impossible.

Here’s the thing, when you’re committed to being your best self, it’s not going to unfold like a perfect movie (because, well…you’re human).  You’re going to feel things that aren’t planned and aren’t pretty, and it’s unsettling.  So the key isn’t to expect perfection and then do a number on yourself when feelings creep up – but to find a constructive way to let the tide of emotion subside so you can choose your actions rather than continue to react in the situation.  There is power in choice. 

I knew last Friday, that I could not problem-solve in the moment.  There were needs in conflict.  My husband had a need for me to run his errand.  I had a need to be at my next meeting on time, present and not as a disheveled crazy-woman.  As my husband kept asking me what I was going to do, I only felt the pressure build.  There was no solution forthcoming as the heightened emotion was squeezing out any room for my brain to function.  If I was going to be able to access my ability to think clearly, I had to get the emotion out of the way.

Now most of the time, because emotions are so unwieldy and unwelcome in the workplace, we just try to block them.  We power through.  We either find a way to do this thing we’re asked to do in spite of the emotions we feel – and then resent it, or we don’t do it, and beat ourselves up.  And probably still resent it.   You see, emotions blocked don’t go away.  We can pretend they’re not there.  We can dress them up real pretty and mask them from the world so others don’t see them.  We may not like them.  They may be terribly inconvenient.  But too bad, they’re there.  That’s what’s real.  It comes with being human.  Our choice is simple – we either deal with them or they will eventually deal with us.  There’s nothing noble or powerful in squashing our feelings.  We either find a way for them to dissipate or we watch our relationships, our health, and our results suffer.

The irony is, dealing with the emotion tends to feel like the harder choice.  It takes courage to own your humanity.

I tabled my husband’s request.  I knew I had to come back to it, but I was in no shape in the moment to make a decision that would serve both our needs.   If I simply succumbed to the pressure I felt and just did what he asked while ignoring my insides, I would put my upcoming meeting, my self respect (for any time we totally dismiss our own needs, we’re telling ourselves that our needs don’t matter), and our relationship at risk – for an errand.

I made it to the Starbucks, where my next meeting was to take place in 20 minutes.  I found a cherished outlet and plugged in my phone.  I bought a green tea iced tea and sat for maybe two minutes allowing myself to return to normal.  Two minutes and I was feeling clear.  That’s all it took.  I called him up, apologized for being cranky, and told him my plan.  “I think I was feeling panicky because my phone was about dead and that gave me so little margin for error. If something went wrong I couldn’t let the person I was meeting know.  My phone is charging now.  I’ll run the errand after my meeting.”  Problem solved.  I felt good, he felt good, all was right in the world.

It seems like a little thing, but it is probably one of the most important things you can do if you truly care about being and bringing your best – honoring your own emotions.  That doesn‘t mean we let emotions run amok, it means that we use them as red flags.  An internal warning system alerting us to something that needs our attention.

Over the course of today, start paying attention to what your insides are telling you.  When do you need to pause before you act, to ensure you’re not reacting?  When do you need just two minutes to give yourself the space you need to make better decisions?  Decisions you won’t regret or resent.  Decisions that reflect your best self.

We are better than we know.  We are wired to sense when we might not bring our best – our emotions are our red flag.  But of course if you override the warning system, all bets are off…

©OnStage Leadership, 2014;  Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. 

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  1. Anthony A. Kung
    April 14, 2014

    From personal experience, emotions are so unwelcomed in the workplace I learned to block them out. And as we know, emotions cannot be selectively blocked – when we block one, we blocked them all. It took some soul searching and my journey through the arts to rediscover what it means to be human again, and to feel again. Today I use my emotions to my advantage, than to see them as a crutch.

  2. Kimberly
    April 14, 2014

    Thanks so much, Anthony, for sharing your experience! I’m sure there are many people who can relate.

  3. Vidya Rajagopalan
    April 14, 2014

    I completely relate. One of the persons who work with me is given to yelling and name calling. For whatever reasons, this behavior is acceptable. I feel angry, sadness and sometimes even self doubt. I am learning to go through my emotions and now it is getting easier and easier to recognize where the s*it is and how best I can handle it.

  4. Kimberly
    April 15, 2014

    Wow, Vidya…I’m sorry to hear that’s happening. It sounds like you’ve got a good handle on it. It’s okay to set a boundary with that person and let them know that it’s not acceptable to yell and name call (I suspect you’ve already tried that – note that they won’t be able to “hear” you in the moment, you’ll have to wait until the emotional flooding is past). One of the tools I’ve taught in the past, when it comes to dealing with heightened emotions, is to empathize (note this is not agreeing with or condoning the reaction). If you can simply name the emotion you’re seeing (in this case, anger) and paraphrase the reason you suspect they may feel what they do (from their perspective – no judgement attached), then it will help the emotion dissipate and you can get to the place where you can have a logical discussion more quickly. For example, “It sounds like you’re really angry because you think you’ve not been treated fairly” or “So you’re mad because you think I overlooked you, is that it?” Once they feel like you “hear” them, then the need to scream it fades away.
    (Now…all that said, this assumes that you’re able to keep your own emotions in check and not react to their reaction! Once we go down the road of jumping into the yuck and reacting ourselves, then it’s very difficult for either side to get to logic without taking a “time out”).
    After they calmed down, and you get to the root of the problem, then you’d want to set some healthy boundaries up for the future. No one deserves to be yelled at or name called at work – it’s not appropriate or acceptable. Sending good thoughts your way!

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    April 16, 2014

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