What to Do When You're Feeling Defeated
If things are going catastrophically awry, you are allowed to wallow, of course you are—but for exactly four minutes. Here's what to start during minute five.
1. Pull a Pixar
What you're feeling: Your pink slip/parking ticket/deadline/social gaffe snowballed into a huge pile of panic. It's all falling apart—on your head.
What to do about it: "One trick I've learned is to force myself to make a list of what's actually wrong," writes Ed Catmull, PhD,, president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, in his new book Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. "Usually, soon into making the list, I find I can group most of the issues into two or three larger, all-encompassing problems. So it's really not all that bad. Having a finite list of problems is much better than having an illogical feeling that everything is wrong."
2. Celebrate Your Super Powers
What you're feeling: You've accomplished zip. Everybody is out there becoming rich, famous, married, powerful. But not you, sister.
What to do about it: Check out Chino Otsuka's images of her adult self Photoshopped into childhood photos. Then ask yourself: What would the 6-year-old you say about your current life? She'd probably think you are amazing, if only because you have a little fountain-soda-like device on your fridge door that shoots water and crushed ice right into your glass. Not to mention: You can bring home a puppy or kitten whenever you feel like it (including now).
3. Channel Your Inner Engineer
What you're feeling: The presentation flopped. You spent six months knitting a scarf that unraveled into a ball of yarn. In other words, you failed.
What to do about it: Head to Admitting Failure. It's the website that Engineers Without Borders (EWB) set up to encourage aid workers to share their mistakes—and to kickstart future success."No longer afraid of being pilloried for messing up, EWB staff became more willing to take the sort of risks that are often the stepping stones to creative breakthroughs," writes Carl Honoré, author of The Slow Fix: Solve Problems, Work Smarter, and Live Better in a World Addicted to Speed. So you're not an engineer. The great thing about bouncing back from a so-called flameout is that the bouncing-back part works for every profession—and situation.
4. Acknowledge the Best Divorce You Ever Had
What you're feeling: Something very, very bad has happened to you. And you can't fix it.
What to do about it: In a survey of hundreds of people, Megan McArdle, author of The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success, found that when people were asked what others would think had been the best things to have ever happened to them, they gave the usual answers: meeting the spouse, the birth of the children. But when asked what they thought were the best things to have ever happened to them, they listed what most of us fear more than anything: divorce, getting fired, cancer. As McArdle puts it, "Moments of crisis can be transformative." She acknowledges that, at the time of the hardship, most people wouldn't have been able to predict that these catastrophic moments would turn out to change their lives. But consider: Have you had an awful/wonderful transformative moment before? Could this be one of them?
5. Crochet Your Own Sherlock
What you're feeling: Do you even have a purpose in life? What is the point of it all, really?
What to do about it: Take actor Nick Offerman's advice about switching to a project where you make something tangible: "One of my tips is get a hobby...putting your phone down and doing something with your hands, so that, at the end of two hours, you have a tangible result from your time. You've still been distracting yourself, by knitting or cooking or playing music, but you've created something." Like a crocheted Sherlock, or something else that can be unequivocally enjoyed.
6. Go Long
What you're feeling: Your world is gray. It will always be gray.
What to do about it: Take the long view. NASA's photo archives are useful for this. So is the Discover magazine blog. And voila, the endless winter that's been beating down your spirit becomes a slightly surreal, gorgeous work of art.
Amy Shearn is the author of the novels The Mermaid of Brooklyn and How Far Is the Ocean from Here.
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