Have you seen the documentary Alone in the Wilderness? Sometimes, I wish that I had the skills and knowledge to live like Dick Proenneke. Living completely alone would eliminate so much of the angst and pain that we are faced with almost everyday. Of course, it would eliminate the joys that we can offer one another, too. Being a member of society, or even just a member of a family, means experiencing moments of the most amazing elation, but also the darkest despair. Recently my life was touched by a tragedy. It’s not my story to tell, so I will not share the details here, but I will say that it has been one of the most difficult situations I’ve ever faced.
People get sick. People get hurt. People die. Spouses leave, children suffer, and all manner of other awful things happen. When presented with something terrible, huge, and life-altering we have to figure out how to keep doing the mundane, day-to-day things. When simply remembering to eat becomes a challenge, then doing something as complex as running a business or fulfilling the necessary duties of your job become Herculean tasks.
Sometimes the path forward is not clear.
Yet, the bills must still get paid.
How do you keep working when you cannot concentrate on anything? How do you continue to function in a professional manner when you don’t even want to bathe?
First, it’s important to be prepared for a bad situation before it happens. Like having a small savings account, putting a few safeguards in place can save your business if you are faced with the worst. I’m not talking so much about money, as about processes and systems. When your mind is scattered, it is easier to lose things, or forget to do things. If you have solid systems in place, you have a little less to remember. Taking a just a bit of time when things are normal to get some automated systems set up really pays off when your world turns upside down.
Last tax season, my wonderful accountant recommended Wave Accounting. It’s a free service, and it’s great – unlike many free services, even the support is good. Although I’m sure I’m not using it exactly correctly, Wave sure has made my invoicing and income and expenditure tracking processes easier. My Wave account links to my business checking account, which simplifies things even more. Knowing that I didn’t need to worry about accounting during the last three weeks has been good. That kind of stuff is too sensitive to do when you know your mind isn’t working quite right.
Another thing that I learned through this recent bad time was that you should carefully choose who you talk to about your personal stuff. When you are overwhelmed by tragedy, it’s hard to not tell people what is happening. It fills you up and dominates everything. Most of my clients are quite close – I probably take the whole “relationship marketing” thing too far. It definitely would have been hard to avoid telling at least a couple of them what was happening because they would have sensed some weirdness, or maybe even perceived me as being rude.
Interestingly, I found that it was uncomfortable, and I wished that I had not shared. Talking to the people who did not know was a relief. There was no need to discuss it, and so those conversations provided some respite. After the first terrible few days, I found that sitting down and doing research actually helped calm my mind and served as a sort of mini-mental-vacation. If I had very pressing deadlines, though, I don’t think that would have been the case. I try to work mostly with clients who are not rushed, and that was a huge benefit in dealing with personal upheaval.
Enormous events impact every part of your life. During the last two-three weeks, I didn’t work consistently, eat properly, or exercise. The house got messy and the garden was neglected. In other words the things that keep my life (and my personality) balanced and sane didn’t happen. Making yourself do normal things is a good reminder that, no matter what bad things are happening, the world is still there, and time is still passing. Depending on your situation, it may feel as if the world has shifted and things shouldn’t be as they always have been. Sometimes it feels like there should have been some sort of fundamental change, like the pull of gravity has doubled or like the sun’s rays have diminished in intensity.
Knowing that is not the case can be either comforting or stunning, depending on the bent of your personality, or the extent of your tragedy. For me, finding some semblance of routine was comforting, and I suspect that is the case for lots of people. Remembering that each of us is one of many and that all of us face unbelievably difficult personal trials can bring a clearer, easier-to-handle perspective. Yesterday was the first day that I forced myself to do some of the things that help me feel okay about the world – and doing them did, indeed, help me feel better.
The enormous importance of kindness is most obvious during times tribulation. There is no kind act that is too small, and no kind word that is unimportant. If you feel the urge to express some sort of goodwill to a fellow human, please do so. You never know what it might mean to someone experiencing difficulty. I don’t often throw out quotes, but these three seem to fit:
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” —Plato
“Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.” —George Sand
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” —Mother Teresa