BL&T No. 181: Finding Energy & Gratitude in Life's Unexpected Obstacles

Personal Growth

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.

Borrowed & Learned

Lately, it seems like there's a new obstacle everywhere we turn.

If I had to pinpoint it, the saga began about a month ago when we had a recurring leak in the basement. Soon after, our septic tank backed up due to a broken pipe outside, leaving a mess to clean up in our basement bathroom. Then, our mailbox got hit after the second snowstorm a week ago. I thought I had an easy fix, but that didn't go as planned. On Thursday, we lost internet for the day, and then again on Saturday. As I write this (from my iPhone hotspot), our internet has been out for almost 48 hours. All the while, our 6-month-old son Mylo got sick for the first time, and of course, Mom and Dad joined in on the fun. Luckily, we're all on the mend.

I'm not recounting any of this to complain or seek sympathy. Rather, it's an opportunity to reflect on how we've navigated the chaos over the last few weeks, among other home projects and the demands of work and everyday life. A past version of myself might have allowed a situation like this to send me down a path of self-pity and stress, wondering why everything was going wrong, further worsening the situation. But this has been different.

Despite the frustration and inconvenience, I've felt energized to tackle these problems head-on. Doing so has not only minimized their impact but has also instilled a sense of control and accomplishment.

Among the Barrel partners, we have this saying, "Stress is a choice." While we may not always control our circumstances, we can choose how we respond to them. I've learned to appreciate this in all aspects of my life, recognizing it as a skill. Opting not to be stressed signifies control, a proactive response to any situation. But how does one find the capacity for such control?

A book I'm reading, Do Hard Things by Steven Magness, explores the relationship between confidence and control. He suggests that high confidence allows us to focus, enjoy the process, and remain calm under pressure. We see challenges as manageable, not insurmountable. In essence, control comes from confidence.

Magness writes: "When confidence is low, we are priming our minds to be susceptible to the negative spiral. We already have doubts over our ability to perform up to our expectations, so at the first sign of that being the case, our brain grasps hold of it. A gentle nudge and we’re headed toward a full-blown freak-out. Not surprisingly, when confidence is high, we experience the opposite. We’re able to completely focus on the task at hand. We experience positive emotions: enjoyment, calm, and excitement. Our body language shifts, and we feel in control of the situation. Research shows we’re able to cope with the demands of the situation, to frame nervousness as excitement, and to persist in the face of mounting fatigue. Compared to our low-confidence days, the cloudy and rainy day is exchanged for blue skies and sunshine."

Reflecting on recent events, I realize it was confidence that eased my mind and focused me on solutions rather than problems. This confidence is rooted in knowing things could be worse and believing in our capacity to overcome challenges, as we've done before.

This mindset has shifted our perspective, helping us see beyond the immediate frustrations and feel gratitude for the other aspects of our lives.

I'll always remember Dana's words as we drove home to pick up Mylo from my parents' house last week: "Despite everything going on, life is good." We went on to talk about what we're grateful for in our life together, often the little things, and what brings us joy, both eager to see Mylo's smile after a much-needed night out.

The past few weeks have been a welcome reminder that life is full of unexpected twists and turns. The best we can do is expect the unexpected, keep moving forward, and enjoy life. Whether it's at home, work, or any other pursuit, it's not always easy, but the principle remains the same.


What actions can I take to transform my initial reaction to stressful moments into more thoughtful and constructive responses?

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