Didn't See That Coming

There are times when life can feel stunningly hard. Like when those pesky what-if scenarios that keep you up at night – What if I get dumped? What if I lose my job? What if my child gets sick? – become a cruel reality. And let’s not forget those challenges you never anticipated, or tragedy you could never have imagined, that tear through your life like a tornado, leaving you to pick up the pieces.

When the worst happens, it’s natural to feel that life will never be the same again. And, in many ways, it won’t. But, with work, you can come through crisis transformed: stronger, more purposeful, and more powerful than you could have ever imagined.

The three most powerful points I took from the book were;

The key message here is: Claiming your authentic identity can help you endure crises.

This is the key message: If you’ve caused the crisis you’re in, don’t let your guilt about it define you.

This is the key message: Shifting your perspective can change a crisis into an opportunity.

This is the key message: A crisis isn’t an excuse to give up on life.

The key message here is: In a crisis, bad habits only deepen your pain.

This is the key message: Even in crisis, work to find your joy.

The key message here is: To come through crises stronger and better, cultivate a growth mindset.

Claiming your authentic identity can help you endure crises.

Experiencing a crisis is like finding yourself on another planet after traveling through space at the speed of light. Your body is on the new planet, but your brain hasn’t caught up yet. You’re still acting and thinking like on Earth.

In the wake of a crisis, you notice some changes immediately. When a loved one dies, you notice she’s gone. When your marriage breaks up, you notice that you’re sleeping alone. But these traumatic events also challenge your identity – and, often, you won’t notice or come to terms with that right away. Life can sometimes leave you reeling, with your sense of self shaken to its core. Let’s take a look at three ways a crisis can shift your identity, and how to deal with each.

The first kind of identity crisis is the feeling that your identity has been taken from you. If you’ve been widowed, for example, you may feel that you’ve lost your identity as a spouse. You wonder, Who am I now? But the reality is that you’re still an amazing spouse. You earned that identity, and no crisis can take that away.

The second identity crisis is the one in which the identity you long for is denied to you. You might desperately want to be a mother, but infertility cruelly prevents you from being one. In this instance, you might need to ask yourself, Am I overly attached to how I’m going to achieve this identity? There are many ways to become a mother – or an entrepreneur, or whatever else you’d like to be. You don’t need to let go of the identity you dream of; rather, you need to be flexible about how you’re going to achieve it.

A third identity crisis occurs when you cling to an identity you thought you wanted, but which no longer serves you. You might have built your life around being a high-flying lawyer, but when you make partner, you feel empty. This is when it’s time to reassess your priorities. If you’re truthful with yourself about your real identity, you might find you want something else, like a more creative job, or a flexible role that lets you spend time with family.

Most importantly, you – and only you – are in charge of defining your own identity. And honest self-reflection will be key to your success.

If you’ve caused the crisis you’re in, don’t let your guilt about it define you.

Sometimes, a crisis is totally outside of your control. The economy shrinks and your job’s on the line. A cancer diagnosis hits you like a bolt from the blue. But there might also be times when you find yourself in a crisis in which you can’t look elsewhere for blame. Your life has been shattered because you broke it.

Unfortunately, we all have flaws. There are times when we may find ourselves being dishonest, disloyal, angry, or even having to deal with issues like addiction. We all have the capacity to inflict trauma on ourselves and others. So, faced with that ugly truth, how do we cope with, and overcome, a crisis we have created?

There’s something you need to know about guilt and shame. They are indicators that you recognize you’ve done something wrong. Already, you’ve taken an important first step toward overcoming any self-made crisis: facing up to your role in causing it. The next step? Let go of your guilt, no matter how difficult that may seem. You can punish yourself with guilt all you like, but that doesn’t solve your problems or improve your situation. Instead, it keeps you in crisis mode longer. Relieve the self-hatred of guilt with self-hatred’s opposite – self-love.

It takes a lot of courage to love yourself enough to let go of guilt. And people around you might make that process even harder. But to get through a crisis, it’s important to heal negative emotions and not let others use your guilt against you. Often, in relationships in which trust has been destroyed – like when someone’s been unfaithful – the wronged party needs his or her partner to feel guilty. The person who has been hurt sees that guilt as a deserved punishment. But that punishment derails progress for the couple, whose focus should be on rebuilding trust. When a relationship gets to the point where guilt cannot be released, the partnership might be over.

Or maybe you’ve let go of your guilt, but the people around you simply can’t accept that. This happens when a father is ready to date again after an acrimonious divorce, but his children don’t approve. Or a newly sober addict is ready to rebuild her life, but her family fixates on her past mistakes. You’re not obligated to carry guilt, no matter what others think. Move on with grace – and let the people around you catch up.

Shifting your perspective can change a crisis into an opportunity.

Have you ever been to the city of Pisa in Italy? It’s home to the world-famous leaning tower. Now, on postcards the tower looks monumental. But in person? Well, it’s beautiful, but it’s kind of small. Underwhelming, even. Yet this mid-sized tower is more popular with tourists than most skyscrapers, and it’s all because of “the photo.” You know the one. If the person with the camera gets the angle just right, and the person in the shot leans a certain way, it looks like they’re hugging the tower or holding it up. What’s more, it looks like the person is the same size as the tower itself.

The tower of Pisa is so cool because it demonstrates how easy it is to shift perspective, and how that shift can bring about dramatic change. A change in perspective is also powerful when dealing with a crisis. The way you react to a crisis is largely about your perspective on it. From one perspective, a horrible divorce is an excuse to shut yourself in the house and withdraw from society.

That same divorce from another perspective? It’s still tremendously tough, but it’s also an opportunity to experience a fresh new season of life. Unfortunately, many people confuse their perspective on a situation with reality – which isn’t the same thing. That makes recalibrating their viewpoint tricky. So how can you reframe your perspective?

Well, first, remember that you’ve changed your perspective many times before. When you were young, you might have believed that babies were delivered by the stork. Or that your lost teeth were collected by the Tooth Fairy. Do you believe those things now? Of course not! Your mindset has changed.

Second, you need to reflect honestly on how past experiences affect your current view of the world. Are all dogs actually bad, or are you reacting to a nasty dog bite you got when you were five? Are all relationships doomed to fail, or have you been damaged by one toxic relationship?

When a crisis hits, keep your perspective in check. Look for alternative ways of thinking about it, don’t let past experiences dictate your present outlook, and surround yourself with people who can help reframe your perspective. You might not turn a tough situation into a pleasant one, but you will make it more bearable – and it will lead to a stronger outcome.

To come through crises stronger and better, cultivate a growth mindset.

There are different ways to react to a crisis. Some people emerge broken and damaged. Others, despite the pain, reach the other side stronger, more powerful, and more resilient than before. We know that crisis can test people’s talents, abilities, and capacity to keep going in ways that they’ve never been tested before. So how can people have such different outcomes even when they experience similar types of trauma? And how can you make sure that you come out of your crisis stronger instead of broken?

Well, it all comes down to your mindset – specifically, whether or not you have a growth mindset. So, what is a growth mindset? To answer that, let’s first look at its opposite, the fixed mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe your capabilities, skills, and talents have limits and can’t be changed. And if you’re stuck in a fixed mindset, you may feel like you’re being tested beyond your limits. Worse, you may feel like there’s nothing you can do about it.

With a growth mindset, on the other hand, you believe you are capable of change, and can develop new skills and acquire new talents. Trauma isn’t easier for people who have a growth mindset. The difference is simply that they have a baked-in belief that, if they work hard enough and try for long enough, they can develop the skills and strength they need to overcome their challenges.

The takeaway? Having a growth mindset makes you more adaptable and helps you rise from crisis with more resilience. But if you believe that you’re stuck in a fixed mindset, here’s some good news: You can develop a growth mindset. Here’s how:

First, be very specific about your problems before looking for solutions. There’s no point researching broad terms like “divorce” or “bereavement.” You’ll be drowning in information, most of which won’t be relevant to your specific situation.

Learn how you learn before you try to learn. Not everyone learns best by reading from a dry textbook. Experiment with YouTube tutorials, community classes, art therapy, or workbooks.

Finally, don’t give up when it doesn’t work the first time. Giving up is giving in to your fixed mindset. Having a growth mindset is all about trying different approaches – even after failing – until you find one that works for you.

A crisis isn’t an excuse to give up on life.

Sometimes a crisis can shake you to your very core. A romance dissolves without warning. Your financial safety net is ripped out from beneath you. A loved one is alive one minute, and gone the next. In the aftermath of a significant trauma, you might feel like retreating from the world. You might want to stop answering your phone, neglect your inbox, take a leave from work, ignore household chores. And that’s fine. You need time to grieve, to process and adjust.

But if you want to move past your trauma, sooner or later you’ll have to stop wallowing and start showing up for your life again. When you’re going through a major crisis, it’s easy to feel like your world has stopped, even though it hasn’t. As soon as your darkest phase of grief has passed, it’s important to rejoin the world. It’s not fair to check out of your life – in fact, you owe it to the people around you not to do so.

You don’t owe it to everyone, of course, but you do owe it to your partner, your closest friends, and your colleagues. If you’re a parent, you especially owe it to your children so as not to burden them with your pain or frighten them by withdrawing from family life.

But you may need help. Becoming present in your own life again is no easy feat after a crisis. Thankfully, resources are available to people going through crises. You can join a dedicated support group, find a therapist, or unload onto a trusted friend. If you’re a more private person, you can try journaling or meditation.

Not every form of support will be right for you, but finding what works through trial and error is part of the grieving and recovery process. As long as you’re trying something, you’re on the right track. Another thing you can do is automate your stress-management techniques. That means setting habits and routines on a schedule to ensure you don’t neglect self-care.

Reserve time for a morning run in your calendar three times a week, set a timer to remind you to take your vitamins, designate Sunday mornings for a soak in the bath. Do whatever you need to to stay healthy, calm, and rested. You can’t show up for others when you haven’t made time to show up for yourself.

In a crisis, bad habits only deepen your pain.

What do you do when you’re having a stressful day at work? Perhaps you help yourself to an extra donut from the break room. Maybe you indulge in some retail therapy on your lunch break. Or you make a stop on the way home to pick up a bottle of wine.

Eating, shopping, and treating yourself to a glass of wine or two: these are all small pleasures that can also be effective stressbusters. But when your stress isn’t confined to one hard day at work – when you’re living under the constant stress that comes with crisis – these small comforts can turn into toxic habits.

During a traumatic experience, your brain is, understandably, preoccupied with the stresses of that crisis. This means that your ability to make decisions and solve problems is impaired. In calmer periods of your life, your brain may have no problem saying, “Hey! Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t reach for that cigarette. Go for a walk to clear your head!” But in a crisis, your brain simply doesn’t have the capacity to make those kinds of healthy decisions.

That’s why you fall back on stress-coping mechanisms that your brain doesn’t need to think about. In other words, in a crisis, your habits take over. And seemingly harmless habits, like unwinding with a glass of wine, can spiral out of control when you don’t have the mental wherewithal to put the brakes on your drinking. Soon, rather than soothing your stress, your once-innocent habits are exacerbating it.

Forming good habits is key. Of course, it’s comparatively simple to establish healthy habits when your life is running smoothly. But even in the midst of a crisis, there are a few healthy habits that you can establish.

For a start, try breathing. Yes, you do that automatically – but whenever things start feeling overwhelming, try breathing with intention. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and center yourself before you tackle your next problem.

And don’t forget to exercise – just go easy on yourself! Now’s not the time to train for a marathon. Try an intuitive workout: listen to your body, then decide what kind of exercise you need that day. You might need to get your heart racing with cardio, or maybe some gentle stretching will do. Let your needs dictate your activity.

Even in crisis, work to find your joy.

Robert Frost once wrote that “the best way out is always through.” This is especially true when battling a traumatic event. You must work through your crisis to get to the other side so you can move on with your life. The way you conduct yourself on that journey is up to you. You can be bitter and mournful, or you can find things to smile at along the way.

If you don’t think that’s possible, consider this. During the early twentieth century, when criminals were still publicly hanged, most would sulk as they approached the gallows. But there were some who laughed, whistled, and even told jokes as they neared their demise. This phenomenon gave birth to an expression we still use today: “gallows humor.”

Pretty grim, right? But even in the worst situations, one can still make space for humor and happiness.

When something terrible happens to you, it can feel wrong to laugh, joke, or take pleasure in things that once brought you happiness. But it’s not wrong. In fact, finding humor and joy in your life, no matter how great or small, becomes more important than ever.

For one thing, humor is cathartic. By finding something to laugh at, you’re telling your crisis, “You may have taken a lot from me, but you haven’t taken my ability to laugh.” Laughing is a way of asserting yourself, making the statement that you’re still here, with the capacity to feel joy. This might make sense in theory. But when you’re deep in the throes of a crisis, you may ask yourself, “What have I got to be happy about?” Finding happiness when your life has just fallen apart is no small feat, but it is possible.

Here are two things you can try: Keep a gratitude journal. Make a daily list of things you’re thankful for in life. Some days, you might have to strain to think of something. But once you’re in the habit of noticing the things that make you thankful, they’ll start piling up. Create your own joy. Remember that joy doesn’t have to be spontaneous. Try scheduling things that bring you happiness, like penciling in an ice-cream date or a trip to the beach. If joy won’t come to you, then you’ll just have to go to joy.

Reimagine your future from inside your new reality.

One of the worst things a crisis can do is rob you of the future you’d imagined for yourself. You expected to retire comfortably by the seaside, but one poor investment decision decimated your finances. You thought you’d grow old surrounded by sweet grandchildren, but an unexpected diagnosis cast a shadow over your plans.

Dealing with a crisis in the present tense is hard enough. Reckoning with how a crisis will alter your future? Well, that can be even tougher. But it is possible to create a different and better future in the aftermath of a crisis – with a little imagination and flexibility.

So how can you build a better future when you’re mourning the loss of the future you’d always pictured?

To begin with, you need to accept that the future is unknown and unknowable. In fact, you’ve just had a hard lesson on that very topic. So work with the things that you can control. Draw from the strength you’ve built up from past challenges and commit to being fully present in the current moment.

With this strength in the present moment, focus on rebuilding your future – consciously. When your life falls apart, you control which components to salvage and what you want to leave behind. Be honest with yourself about the parts of your life that aren’t serving you. Those are the things you can leave in the past. You don’t just want to rebuild; you want to rebuild better than before.

Create a vision for the new you. Write down the kind of life that the best version of you would live. Be specific! What type of person do you see yourself being? Where do you live? What kind of work do you do? What have you started doing? What have you stopped doing?

Finally, it’s time to translate that vision into concrete goals – or, more specifically, one goal. One small, achievable goal that will get you one step closer to that best version of yourself. Accomplishing that goal should lead to the next small, achievable goal. As you work toward that goal, revel in your momentum – enjoy not just the results, but also the process of striving for a better life. And each goal that you bring to fruition will give you the confidence and self-belief to keep going in pursuit of your future vision.


What I took from it.

Experiencing a crisis is tough, but it’s not an excuse to give up. Coping with a crisis and emerging stronger and more resilient is achievable. Remember to grieve mindfully, let go of guilt, cultivate a growth mindset, and make a conscious commitment to build a better future. You may never be grateful for your traumatic experiences, but you can use them to create a new, empowered life.

Learn courage from the examples of others. Is fear holding you back from making your way out of a crisis, stronger than before? You’re not alone. You have courage inside you, but you need to find it. One way to do that is to look for inspiration in other people’s experiences. Watch documentaries, read books, and attend seminars from people sharing how they overcame their fears and regained courage, even when it seemed overwhelmingly far away.

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